Too Close for Comfort, or too Far to Care? Finding Humor in Distant Tragedies and Close Mishaps



Humor is ubiquitous and often beneficial, but its antecedents have been debated for millennia. We examine two factors that jointly influence perceptions of humor: the degree to which a stimulus is a violation (tragedy vs. mishap) and one’s perceived distance from the stimulus (far vs. close). Five studies then show that tragedies (which feature severe violations) are more humorous when temporally, socially, hypothetically, or spatially distant, but that mishaps (which feature mild violations) are more humorous when psychologically close. Although prevailing theories of humor have difficulty explaining the interaction revealed in the studies, the result is consistent with an account that proposes that humor occurs when a violation simultaneously seems benign. A benign violation account suggests that distance facilitates humor for tragedies by reducing threat, but closeness facilitates humor for mishaps by maintaining some sense of threat. We discuss implications for theories of humor and psychological distance.

Peter McGraw is an innovative researcher who has a talent for fostering community. During his academic career, he has received more than 15 awards, grants and honors. During 2009-2010 McGraw was awarded the Sterling-Rice Research Award, a Marketing Science Institute (MSI) Grant, and the CU Men’s Basketball Professor of the Game honor. He has published more than 20 papers in outlets such as the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Psychological Science, and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

This research seminar is organised by the Erasmus Centre for Marketing of Innovation (ECMI).
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Dr. G. Liberali