Moral Foundation Sensitivity and Perceived Humor

20 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2014

See all articles by John Kruschke

John Kruschke

Indiana University

Allison Vollmer

Indiana University Bloomington

Date Written: July 21, 2014


The benign-violation theory of humor (McGraw & Warren, 2010) predicts that funniness should be an inverted-U function of perceived severity of violation. We tested this prediction for jokes targeting five moral foundations (Haidt & Joseph, 2004). Instead of manipulating the severity of moral violation in the jokes, we measured individual differences in moral foundation sensitivity. The data were analyzed by a hierarchical quadratic trend model with ordinal probit rating probabilities using Bayesian estimation of parameters. Results confirmed a negative quadratic trend in funniness ratings as a function of moral foundation sensitivity, affirming both the benign-violation theory of humor and the theory of moral foundations. A practical implication is that humorist should tune their jokes to the moral sensitivities of their audience with moral foundations as a structural guide. A theoretical implication is that theories of moral psychology should include humor in their purview, because some of the central functions of humor and laughter are to affiliate ingroup members, differentiate outgroup members, and mark transgressions of group norms.

Keywords: Moral psychology, moral foundation, humor, benign violation, individual differences, Bayesian

Suggested Citation

Kruschke, John and Vollmer, Allison, Moral Foundation Sensitivity and Perceived Humor (July 21, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

John Kruschke (Contact Author)

Indiana University ( email )

Dept. of Psychological and Brain Sciences
1101 E. 10th St.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States


Allison Vollmer

Indiana University Bloomington ( email )

Dept of Biology
100 South Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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