Humor Production and Perceptions of Psychological Health

33 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2016  

A. Peter McGraw

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Erin Percival Carter

University of Colorado at Boulder - Leeds School of Business

Jennifer Harman

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Department of Psychology

Date Written: February 4, 2016

Abstract

Funny people — comedians, class clowns, and pranksters — often seem troubled. But are they? Though an argument can be made either way, we suggest that trying to be funny can cause people to seem psychologically unhealthy regardless of their actual psychological health. We derive our predictions from the benign violation theory of humor, which proposes amusement arises from the perception that something is wrong yet okay. Accordingly, acting non-normatively enhances humor as long as the behavior is not too deviant. We present two studies that ask participants to judge storytellers based on the content of their stories. Although stories featuring taboo topics facilitate humor (up to a point) — humorous stories also create the impression that there is something wrong with the storyteller. Importantly, we find that the same storyteller is more likely to be perceived to be psychologically unhealthy when telling a story intended to be funny than when telling a story intended to be otherwise interesting.

Keywords: humor, emotion, social judgment, health, person perception

Suggested Citation

McGraw, A. Peter and Percival Carter, Erin and Harman, Jennifer, Humor Production and Perceptions of Psychological Health (February 4, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2727829 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2727829

A. Peter McGraw (Contact Author)

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

United States

Erin Percival Carter

University of Colorado at Boulder - Leeds School of Business ( email )

Boulder, CO 80309-0419
United States

Jennifer Harman

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Department of Psychology ( email )

Fort Collins, CO 80523
United States

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