The Rise and Fall of Humor: Psychological Distance Modulates Humorous Responses to Tragedy

23 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2014

See all articles by A. Peter McGraw

A. Peter McGraw

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Lawrence Williams

University of Colorado at Boulder

Caleb Warren

Bocconi University - Department of Marketing

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 20, 2013

Abstract

Humor is a ubiquitous experience that facilitates coping, social coordination, and well-being. We examine how humorous responses to a tragedy change over time by measuring reactions to jokes about Hurricane Sandy. Inconsistent with the belief that the passage of time monotonically increases humor, but consistent with the benign violation theory of humor, a longitudinal study reveals that humorous responses to Sandy’s destruction rose, peaked, and eventually fell over the course of one hundred days. Time creates a comedic sweet spot that occurs when the psychological distance from a tragedy is large enough to buffer people from threat (creating a benign violation), but not so large that the event becomes a purely benign, non-threatening situation. The finding can help psychologists understand how people cope and provide clues to what makes things funny and when they will be funny.

Keywords: Humor, Psychological distance, Time, Emotion, Coping

Suggested Citation

McGraw, A. Peter and Williams, Lawrence and Warren, Caleb, The Rise and Fall of Humor: Psychological Distance Modulates Humorous Responses to Tragedy (September 20, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2370953 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2370953

A. Peter McGraw (Contact Author)

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

United States

Lawrence Williams

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

1070 Edinboro Drive
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Caleb Warren

Bocconi University - Department of Marketing

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, 20136
Italy

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