Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny

9 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2010 Last revised: 6 Mar 2012

See all articles by A. Peter McGraw

A. Peter McGraw

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Caleb Warren

Bocconi University - Department of Marketing

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 18, 2010

Abstract

Humor is an important, ubiquitous phenomenon; however, seemingly disparate conditions seem to facilitate humor. We integrate these conditions by suggesting that laughter and amusement result from violations that are simultaneously seen as benign. We investigate three conditions that make violations benign and thus amusing: 1) the presence of an alternative norm suggesting the situation is acceptable, 2) weak commitment to a violated norm, and 3) psychological distance from the violation. We test the benign violation hypothesis in the domain of moral psychology, which documents a strong association between moral violations and negative emotions, particularly disgust. Five experimental studies show that benign moral violations also tend to elicit laughter and amusement. Furthermore, seeing a violation as both wrong and not wrong mediates behavioral displays of amusement. Our account is consistent with evolutionary accounts of laughter, explains humor across many domains, and suggests humor can accompany negative emotion.

Suggested Citation

McGraw, A. Peter and Warren, Caleb, Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny (April 18, 2010). Psychological Science, Vol. 21, No. 8, pp. 1141-1149. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1592027

A. Peter McGraw (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing ( email )

United States

Caleb Warren

Bocconi University - Department of Marketing

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, 20136
Italy

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