The rise and fall of humor: Psychological Distance Modulates Humorous

Categories: Sense

McGraw, Williams, and Warren (2013) designed a study to help find how humor changes over time after a tragedy. In the study the tragedy they used to test the theory was Hurricane Sandy. The study involved more than one thousand participants, recruited online, from Amazon Mechanical Turk network. In the article the authors used the benign violation theory to help them see if psychological distance helps with the transformation from tragedy to comedy. The theory says that humor rises when a tragedy that happens to you become more acceptable or okay.

The theory also says that humor can fail to happen If a situation is very violent, or purely benign

This study used a correlational research method, because it’s trying to find out how psychological distance correlates with humor. The study had two independent variables; two different time stamps, and the main independent variable which are the tree tweets. The tweets were shown in order to test how people felt about them during different times after the tragedy occurs.

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The results were to see during what time do the participants feel like the tweets were humorous, offensive or irrelevant and boring. The study used independent samples, that were placed at different time points. One day before the hurricane passed, the day the hurricane touched ground and lastly weeks after the storm. In order to gather results the participants, participated in an online survey, were they rated from 1 to 7 how they felt about each tweet. The responses to funny and humorous became an index for each tweet which served as the primary dependent measure (McGraw, Williams, & Warren 2013).

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In addition, participant provided information about themselves for example age, and sex, as well as where they lived.

The results of this study confirm the hypothesis, the time when the participants saw the tweets played a role in how they interpreted the tweets. They use of time was crucial in this study, and how far away geographically the participants were from where the storm was hitting. They broke down time into two different time frames; one when Hurricane Sandy was approaching, and second when it landed, and the damage was done. The results were the following during the first time period; one day before the storm hit, the tweets were considered humorous. Though during the following days humor decreased. During the second time frame, after people came to terms with what had happened, the numbers showed that it was too early to find the tweets funny. During this time participants rated the tweets offensive. As timed passed, it became easy to find comedy in the tweets therefor the humor increased. Then after 99 days of Sandy’s hit the numbers on the scale decreased again. The researchers used these results to show how psychological distance (that is when someone feels like they are far away from a big disaster or that is supposed to happen to someone else), and time helps find when a tragedy can be seen as humorous.


Overall, this study was well design in order to test the believes of whether humorous responses changes over time after a tragedy. The method used in this study are good because it gives a very clear view of the findings and of what is being tested. Since is trying to find a relation between two items, in this case what relationship does humor has to time and distance. The results that McGraw, Williams, and Warren (2013) obtained make sense since having experience or experiencing a tragedy makes it hard to find something funny about the current or past situation.

In this study validity can be found, that is that it was testing what it was supposed to be tested. On the other hand, it can also be reliable, because if the test was done again with a similar tragedy, they the result would probably be the same, as the ones in this study. The ethicalness in this study is not very questionable. This study is very ethical because there is nothing done that can be harmful to the participants since the way they had to answer on how they felt about tweets were through an online questionnaire. The study found results that show, when people are psychologically distant from a tragedy then it’s more likely to find something that is supposed to be comical about the situation funnier. The results of this study are strong. They revealed a correlation between time and reactions to tweeter jokes.

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The rise and fall of humor: Psychological Distance Modulates Humorous. (2021, Oct 11). Retrieved from

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