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Benign Violations : Making Immoral Behavior Funny
A. Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren
Psychological Science published online 29 June 2010
DOI: 10.1177/0956797610376073

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Furthermore. Humor even helps how the world ought to be (Freud. Peter McGraw. Five experimental studies show that benign moral violations tend to elicit laughter and amusement in addition to disgust. We tested the benign-violation hypothesis in the domain of moral psychology. 2000). & Haidt. and alleviates conflict between people with different E-mail: peter. 2001. University of tion and admiration. Provine. We hypothesize that humor is elicited by benign violations and show that moral violations Theories of Humor that simultaneously seem benign elicit laughter and amuse.1177/0956797610376073 http://pss. typically suggest pain (Gervais & Wilson. embarrassment. Leeds School of Business. Theories of humor. 2007). such as disgust. UCB 419. We investigated three conditions that make a violation benign and thus humorous: (a) the presence of an alternative norm suggesting that the situation is acceptable. disgust. Since the dawn of Western thought. and mates (Martin. or tension release tous. mixed emotions.sagepub. and physical benefits. 1928). 1928. CO 80309 aries.com A. Boulder. 2007.sagepub. superiority (Gruner. Colorado. And emotion of amusement and the tendency to laugh (Gervais & general humor theories. (b) weak commitment to the violated norm. 1992). It attracts atten. Imada. Martin. unintentionally Wyer & Collins. Kring. worldviews (Gervais & Wilson.nav DOI: 10. seemingly disparate conditions seem to facilitate humor. scientists. such as jokes (Raskin. rather than amusement (Rozin. and physical 1998). ceived violation. Veatch. 2005. often erroneously predict humor. grief. such as incongruity humor is important to psychological science. moral judgment. observation. Lowery. assert superiority. 1998).1177/0956797610376073 Research Article Psychological Science Benign Violations: Making Immoral XX(X) 1­–9 © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: Behavior Funny sagepub. 1985) or irony (Giora. Humor is ubiqui. 2010 as doi:10. A. that the very same types of normative breaches elicit negative Martin. 1997). 1972). laughter Received 9/23/09. which address narrow Humor Is Important sources of humor. 1997. Keywords humor. or something that disrupts people’s sense of Young. Gruner. however. ubiquitous phenomenon. however. particularly disgust. 2007. delineates social bound. Keltner & Bonanno. and suggests that humor can accompany negative emotion. where there is a strong documented association between moral violations and negative emotions. University of Colorado at Boulder Abstract Humor is an important. seeing a violation as both wrong and not wrong mediates behavioral displays of humor. Humor is a psychological state characterized by the positive 1995). emotions. Our account is consistent with evolutionary accounts of laughter.mcgraw@colorado. Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren Leeds School of Business. and comedians have tried to explain what makes things funny. which attempt to explain all types of Wilson. dates. (Suls. Capps. Veatch. as in the case daily conversation. Understanding humor by supposing broad antecedents. We integrate these conditions by suggesting that laughter and amusement result from violations that are simultaneously seen as benign.com/journalsPermissions. emotion. Accepted 12/7/09 Theories of humor often suggest that humor requires a per. Martin. are incapable of explaining humor across domains. and (c) psychological distance from the violation. 2005. moral violations. & Heerey. psychological. ment in addition to disgust. For example. Keltner. 1985. Humor also bestows Corresponding Author: social. however. of some unexpected tragedies. Psychological Science OnlineFirst. Domain-specific theories. 1999). People of all ages and cultures experience humor in their (Freud. people cope with anxiety. 2010 . tend to suffer from one of two drawbacks. philosophers. 1997. entertainment choices and whom they select as friends. 2005. The pursuit of humor affects people’s killing a loved one would be incongruous. published on June 29.edu Downloaded from pss. 2007). and imagination (Apte.com by SAGE Account on July 8. Moral psychology theories. explains humor across many domains. softens criticism.

. psychology literature suggests that moral violations elicit strictly in other words. That is. strange behaviors). 1999). 2005. 2005. Consequently. 3–5). For example. Woods. 1982. 1998. 2007. requires ior and consider it wrong (Haidt et al. Coolidge. A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a A third condition provides a way to reconcile the first two: dead chicken. 2005). however. breaches of norms. First. similar to those present in violations tend to elicit laughter and behavioral displays of play fighting and tickling (Gervais & Wilson. 1973). Raskin. it is harmless—after all. or taboo content (Freud. (b) one is only weakly committed to the violated norm. humorous violations likely origi.. 1993). benign (Apter. Our first two studies show that potentially benign moral nated as apparent physical threats. social norms (e. 1998). or behaviors people consider wrong. and disparagement (McCauley. Rozin et al. disrespectful behaviors). provides a way to interpret the threats present in and thus be amusing. We propose and test three. 1928. lations) tend to elicit strictly negative emotion. there is more than one way in which a violation broad review of the literature suggests three conditions that can seem benign. For example... primates often Benign Moral Violations laugh when they are play fighting. 1983. 2. Downloaded from pss. most humor theories have difficulty predict. Rothbart. humor requires that two Using a chicken carcass for masturbatory purposes violates contradictory ideas about the same situation be held simulta.com by SAGE Account on July 8. synergy.2 McGraw. Ramachandran. Haidt. linguistic norms (e. threats. they suggest an untested hypothesis: that people who see the behavior as both a violation and benign Humor is aroused by benign violations. 2000.. and sufficient for eliciting humor: A situation must be In five experimental studies. eating from a ster- ing laughter in response to tickling or play fighting in primates ile bedpan. as unlikely as it may seem.. Provine. As amusement. 1998). 2000). 1992). 1964. 1992). A violation can facilitate humor. The benign-violation hypothesis predicts together. researchers have not 2001). 1982. 2005. a be a violation. 1998. he has Several theories suggest that humor requires an interpretive sexual intercourse with it. 1993). 2010 . several reasons. malign vio- violations. Second. some people may not be strongly The Benign-Violation Hypothesis committed to the violated sexual norms (Haidt & Hersh. the behavior can simultaneously seem benign moreover. Then he cooks the chicken process labeled simultaneity. including apparent wrong but another salient norm suggests that it is acceptable. for simultaneity (Martin.g. hos- tility. Koller. 4.sagepub. Provine. Moreover. 1983). playful. are typically treated as distinct from other sense of how the world “ought to be” will be humorous. & Kulick. widely held moral norms concerning bestiality and necro- neously. 1985. gruity (Apter. Considered chologically distant. the situations that elicited humor likely violations elicit mixed emotions of amusement and disgust. a situation must be appraised as moral violations are more humorous than similar situations benign. evolutionarily primitive bestiality. including violations of personal dignity (e. and Dias (1993): laughter if the aggressor seems serious or is not trusted (Gervais & Wilson. tions to moral violations.g. The benign-violation sources of laughter. but is unlikely to be slapstick. 2005. physical deformities). or. unusual funny.g. the chicken play fighting and tickling as benign. Zillmann. Those who do not simultaneously see both hypothesis suggests that three conditions are jointly necessary interpretations will not be amused. apparent notably disgust (Rozin. or in the presence of We tested the benign-violation hypothesis by examining reac- other physical threats (Gervais & Wilson. the scenario seems hypothetical and thus psy- considered these three conditions together. Gervais & Wilson.g. Wyer & Collins. Empirical work (c) the violation is psychologically distant. seemingly contradictory. 2000. most people are disgusted by this behav- meanings of a word or phrase are brought together. (including humans). Wyer & Collins. such as tickling and play fighting (Gervais hypothesis suggests that anything that is threatening to one’s & Wilson. expanded from apparent physical threats to a wider range of whereas moral violations that are not benign (i. as sources of humor (Provine. tickled. Violations can take a variety of forms (Veatch. condition is that humor Moral violations provide a compelling test because the moral occurs in contexts perceived to be safe. With the exception of Veatch (1998). or incon. we explored whether benign appraised as a violation. Although existing theories do not agree on the specific nec. nonserious.e. bisociation. 1973). Just as there is more than one way in which a situation can essary and sufficient antecedents of humor (Martin. negative emotion (McGraw & Tetlock.. Veatch. From and 5) or involve a moral violation that is not benign (Studies an evolutionary perspective.. in which two philia. However. Consider the threats like play fighting and tickling are unlikely to elicit following scenario adapted from Haidt. and these two appraisals must occur simultaneously. understanding puns. Rothbart. that either do not involve a moral violation (Studies 1. Warren and release repressed aggressive tension. For example. 2005). First. confirms that humor is aroused by displays of aggression. and even moral norms (e. 2007). Koestler. Consequently. 1998). 2000). Simultaneity. theorists since Aristotle have suggested seem benign if (a) a salient norm suggests that something is that humor is often evoked by violations. & McCauley. and eats it. The latter three studies show that benign moral humans evolved. But before cooking the chicken. long as the threatening situation also seems benign. was already dead—and therefore acceptable according to a moral norm based on harm (Haidt et al. accents. Veatch. Veatch. Third. or Gruner. The benign-violation will be amused. malapropisms). 1997. A second.

Version was manipulated within subjects. Moreover.” In the control version. participants Our first study investigated whether moral violations that can were asked two questions: “Is the behavior described in this be seen as benign are more likely to elicit laughter than are scenario wrong (i. Then her 2 2 0 father lost his job. For example. (version order: violation first. Then he told Keith to do whatever he wished with the remains.   Control version: Before he passed away.   Control version: The servers and bartenders at a wedding earn extra tips 0 3 0 when the mother of the bride walks up to the bar and casually drops a ten-dollar bill in the tip jar. although these behaviors violate a Results. 58% The experiment used a 2 (version: violation. therefore. Design and measures. However. Downloaded from pss. 2%). 5%). p < scenario. 2010 . Participants read a mixed design.5. they may be considered acceptable according to the violation versions wrong than to judge the behavior in the an alternative norm. the behavior honors the wishes of to violation versions than in response to control versions the deceased: The father told his son to do “whatever he (44% vs. there is no violation: The son buries his father’s ashes.   Average    Violation version 69 44 27    Control version 2 5 0 Note: Boldface highlights the words that differed between versions.sagepub. and so she decided to sell her virginity on eBay® to earn money to help pay off family debt. p < . Then he told Keith to do whatever he wished with the remains. Then her 78 45 35 father lost his job. Keith decided to bury his dead father’s ashes. control first) × 4 (scenario order) plete Study 1 in exchange for a candy bar. The violation versions described behav.  Scenarios and Results From Study 1 Response (%) Scenario and version “Behavior is wrong” “Behavior made me laugh” Both Snorting Remains   Violation version: Before he passed away. Endorsing Pork   Violation version: Jimmy Dean decides to hire a rabbi as their new spokes.10). and so she decided to sell her jewelry on eBay® to earn money to help pay off family debt.001. Sixty-six people (42% female. F(1.com by SAGE Account on July 8. 0 12 0 person for the company’s line of pork products. Keith decided to snort his dead father’s ashes.. She wanted to help out. immoral)?” and “Did this scenario make behaviors that do not violate a moral norm. Selling Virginity   Violation version: Jenny’s family made some poor investments. 58) = 576. in the Snorting Remains control versions wrong (69% vs. She wanted to help out. a pattern consistent Table 1. 58) = 112.4. Participants were more likely to judge the behavior in moral norm. the two order factors were manipulated between subjects. They were also more likely to report laughter in response ashes. and violation version and a control version of four different sce. F(1. 21 62 12 person for the company’s line of pork products. Analyses showed no significant effects of gender or order iors that breach a widely recognized moral norm.001. a man disrespects his dead father by snorting his . control) × 2 male) approached on a large university campus agreed to com.Benign Violations 3 Moral Violations Can Be Funny wished with the remains.   Control version: Jenny’s family made some poor investments. psycho- logically distant. so these variables are not discussed further. narios (see Table 1). technically. Keith’s father told his son to 82 38 29 cremate his body. but are (ps > . you laugh?” Participants responded “yes” or “no” to each question.   Control version: Jimmy Dean decides to hire a farmer as their new spokes. Keith’s father told his son to 6 5 0 cremate his body.e. Stealing Tips   Violation version: The servers and bartenders at a wedding are denied tips 94 32 29 when the mother of the bride walks up to the bar and casually pockets the money in the tip jar. Study 1: benign moral violations elicit laughter After reading each version of each scenario.1 unusual enough to seem hypothetical and.

Hemenover scenario described a man who snorts (violation) or buries (con.5. another necessary condi- exposed to either the violation version or the control version of tion for humor according to the benign-violation hypothesis. while reading the violation version about a son snorting his Study 3 tested this hypothesis. 1986).sagepub. while in which a man rubs his bare genitals on his pet kitten. p < . because no one is harmed—note that the kitten wrong. Mellers. 1108). we suspect that some humorous situa- tions may arouse negative emotion in addition to amusement Design and measures. Participants then responded “yes” or “no” to each of two ques. is a scenario if they could interpret the behavior in the scenario conducive to mixed emotions (Larsen. seems to enjoy the contact—the behavior is acceptable according to an alternative norm based on harm (Haidt. pleasure and pain. benign moral violations elicit mixed emotions of amusement While the participant read the scenario. Depending on random assignment. Results were consistent with those of the initial study. & as both “wrong” and “not wrong. Moreover. 8%). and recent research has confirmed that sented (N = 73) were given an envelope and instructed to read some humorous experiences. 1990. participants who interpreted the 58% male) completed the experiment in exchange for partial behavior as both wrong and not wrong were significantly more course credit. simultaneity.7. The protagonist violates a moral norm interpreted as both wrong and okay. Therefore. the involve mixed emotions (Harris & Alvarado. Participants were randomly assigned to read one likely to show signs of amusement than participants who inter. Thirty-six undergraduates (42% female. we asked participants et al.e. or both wrong and not wrong. the benign-violation hypothesis pos- it seems wrong according to one norm. 13%). Martin. A significant percentage (44% vs. who believed that humor involves a mixture of willing to participate in a brief research study. father’s ashes than while reading the control version about a son burying his father’s ashes (32% vs.1.. In the others think that it is okay. 1998). F(1. Consequently. the kitten “purrs and seems to enjoy the same person may be able to see how a situation can be contact” (p. 2007).01. participants read the following One way in which a violation may seem benign is if one instructions: norm suggests that the behavior is wrong but another simul- taneously suggests that it is acceptable. we explored whether people who interpret a situation as Theorists typically describe humor as a strictly positive emo- both a violation and benign are more likely to smile and laugh tional experience (Gervais & Wilson. 58) = 60. 2004). Consider the sce- People can interpret situations in a variety of ways. Those who con. 2005.5.. People were approached by a research and laughter. Sometimes. Sobel t = 2.05 (Baron & Kenny. we suspect that many people will see tions: “Can you interpret the behavior in this scenario as wrong the behavior in this scenario as a benign violation and be (i. 1999). harmless) of a scenario in which a preted the behavior as strictly wrong or strictly not wrong man rubs his genitals on a kitten (see Table 2). the behavior is Results. N = 73) = 8. Thus.com by SAGE Account on July 8.001 (see Table 1 for results). McGraw. however. χ2(1. The studies also investigated conditions that make blind to both the participant’s condition and the experiment’s violations simultaneously seem benign. than those who do not.e. χ2(1. 1975). 0%). a research assistant. We suspect that this viola- Participants were more likely to show signs of amusement tion will seem less benign and. However. consequently. p = . and Jordan (2008). 2005. of two versions (harmful. Rozin tion of the benign-violation hypothesis. Some people may think that a situation is wrong. A similar idea was initially suggested by Plato assistant on a large university campus and asked if they were (trans.” In this case. Participants who smiled or laughed were coded as displaying amusement. less amusing. to test the simultaneity condi. on displays of amusement. A mediation test of participants who considered the behavior in the violation indicated that the interpretation of the behavior as both wrong versions wrong also reported laughing at the behavior (27% and not wrong partially mediated the effect of scenario version vs. Study 3: conflicting norm interpretations After reading the scenario. 2007. Our subsequent studies tested whether trol) his dead father’s ashes (see Snorting Remains in Table 1). observed whether or not the participant smiled and laughed.01. 2010 . Participants Downloaded from pss. p < . 2007). N = 73) = Design and measures. p < . Interestingly. Warren with the benign-violation hypothesis. hypotheses. immoral)?” and “Can you interpret the behavior in this amused. whether you see the behavior in the above scenario as However. lations typically elicit negative emotion (Nesse.. such as tickling and toilet humor. okay)?” Suppose that instead of purring. and disgust. a brief scenario inside. Study 2: funny violations seem “wrong” and “not wrong” Mixed Emotions and Benign Violations Next. wrong according to both norms. & Schimmack. the kitten “whines and does not seem to enjoy the contact. But what if the kitten is harmed by the behavior? scenario as not wrong (i. its that a violation is a necessary condition for humor. nario developed by Schnall. One way a violation can be benign is if Veatch. 6.4 McGraw. the original scenario. and vio- ing to another norm.” Cacioppo. Clore. not wrong. but acceptable accord. We want to know related to bestiality by using his pet kitten as a sex toy. Haidt.

p < . Moreover. Koller. Design and measures. p > . participants were more amused by the church (violation) or a credit union (control) raffles off an H2 harmless version than by the harmful version (61% vs. Crossing the manipulation with the individual difference in commitment yielded a 2 (version: violation. & Cacioppo. N = 36) = 4. the chicken and eats it. and 5 Study and scenario Harmless or control version Harmful or violation version Study 3: Kitten (adapted from Matthew is playing with his new kitten late one Matthew is playing with his new kitten late one Schnall.1.2. N = 39) = Hummer SUV as part of a promotion for its members (Graham.05. Study 4: Hummer (adapted from In order to recruit new members. N = 36) = 4. coded as weakly committed to the sanctity of the church. Hummer SUV as part of a promotion (see Table 2).8. a church giving away an SUV (69% vs. and thought the behavior was wrong. (McGraw.com by SAGE Account on July 8. 2008) the kitten sometimes walks over his genitals. 2005) union is raffling off a new H2 Hummer SUV.05. churchgoers should be more strongly com. 45% male) completed Study 4 for partial course Results. He is wearing only his boxer shorts. But before cooking the and buys a chicken. & night. and night. The kitten purrs. He is wearing only his boxer shorts. in which a credit union gave away an SUV (ps > . Eighty undergraduate participants (55% female. People who are more weakly committed to a by the violation. and participants who never attended church were . he has sexual intercourse with it. N = 39) = 0. the kitten sometimes walks over his genitals. 28%). N = 39) = 4. 1999). rather than replaced. this arouses him. Then he cooks chicken. 35%). 65%). χ2(1.06. Engaging in such a secular promotion jeopardizes the churchgoers to be both amused and disgusted (69% vs. p < . 2001. this arouses him.05.sagepub.2. control) × 2 (com- Study 4: commitment to the violated norm mitment: high. credit. Most participants judged the behavior in the sce. or not they were amused. Schwartz. 1993) and buys a chicken. low) between-subjects design.Benign Violations 5 reported their reaction to the scenario on a series of dichoto. participants were more likely to report being both not participants attended church (our proxy for commitment). McGraw. & Dias.2 Table 2. he marinates it. Partici- χ2(1. norm can recognize the violation but are less likely to be χ2(1. Haidt. Note: Boldface highlights the words that differed between versions. who threatened or to directly experience the violation’s repercus. Both nonchurchgoers and churchgoers were disgusted (Veatch. we asked whether or sequently. and does not seem to contact. Con. 22%). Another way a violation may seem benign is if a situation vio- lates a norm to which people are only weakly committed Results. a credit In order to recruit new members. were less committed to the violated norm. 2010 . Clore. However. Nonchurchgoers were also more likely than 2005). 2010). ences between churchgoers and nonchurchgoers in the control mitted to this belief than are people who do not attend church condition. amusement typically pants indicated whether or not they were amused and dis- supplemented. & Tetlock. gusted. Then he cooks the chicken and eats it. although most people consider χ2(1. as recommended in the literature on would experience more mixed emotions than churchgoers mixed emotions (Larsen. Anyone Anyone who joins the credit union in the next who joins the church in the next six months six months will be eligible to enter and win the will be eligible to enter and win the H2. responding “yes” or “no. participants indicated whether a promotion. Russell when reading about a church that raffles off an SUV as part of & Carroll. p < . raffling off a new H2 Hummer SUV. and Jordan. Consequently. Downloaded from pss. χ2(1. Eventually. 62%). and seems to enjoy the The kitten whines. 4. a church is Graham. Consider a news story about a church that raffles off a be amused than churchgoers (92% vs. were more likely to sions. sanctity of the church.05 (see Table 3 for results). Participants were randomly assigned to read either a nario to be wrong (72%) and disgusting (94%) regardless of violation version or a control version of a scenario in which a condition. we found no differ- churches sacred. enjoy the contact. and he begins to rub his bare genitals along the kitten’s body. But before cooking the chicken. were disgusted. amused and disgusted when the behavior was harmless than Participants who attended church were coded as strongly com- when it was harmful (56% vs. 1998). p < mitted.  Scenarios for Studies 3. expected that nonchurchgoers would be more amused and mous yes/no measures. Specifically. Study 5: Chicken (adapted from A man goes to the supermarket once a week A man goes to the supermarket once a week Haidt. however.1. and.1. 4.” Next. rub his bare genitals along the kitten’s body. nonchurchgoers. H2. As expected. and he begins to Eventually. feelings of disgust. we see Table 4 for results).

44 59 56 2 χ (1. Mel Brooks focused instead on pants (34% female. 0 28 22 χ2(1. Comedians have long speculated domly exposed to a moral violation or a similar control that increasing psychological distance helps transform nega. 44 44 44 χ (1. After this procedure. N = 80) = 8.06. Participants were finger.56a p < . stating. likelihood. or hypotheticality (Liberman & Trope. disgusted p < . used a priming procedure to activate far or near psychologi- 2008)—may also make a violation seem more or less benign cal distance. N = 80) = 1. p < . N = 39) = 4.sagepub.  Results for Study 3 Version Response to scenario Harmless Harmful χ2 test Behavior is wrong 72 72 — Disgusted 94 94 — Amused   61 28 χ2(1. p < . N = 39) = 0. 2008) and induces mixed emotional responses to phys.57a p < . Seventy-three undergraduate partici- time” (Wikiquote. ment than psychologically near violations. we spatial. 2010).1. χ2 test (low vs. near) reduces the threat associated with aversive events (Williams & between-subjects design. 66% male) at a large university completed social distance in his famous quip.1.1.001 Amused 92 62 72 χ2(1.High com. “Comedy is tragedy plus Design and procedure. participants were asked to plot two points on a Carte- ically disgusting and frightening stimuli (Andrade & Cohen.2.05 p < .8. In Study 5. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die” randomly assigned to one of four conditions in a 2 (version: (Wikiquote. 2007).07. 2010). high χ2 test (violation vs.98 p < .3.2.00. 2010 .6 McGraw.13 p < . First.17a p < .2. Warren Table 3.05 p < . N = 36) = 4. N = 80) = 11. we hypothesized that psycho- logically distant moral violations would elicit more amuse- Psychological distance in its many forms—temporal. dardized test question. high Low com.14 Both disgusted 69 35 46 χ2(1. χ2(1. N = 39) = 5. 0 16 12 χ2(1.  Results for Study 4 Violation version Control version Low com. and amused p < . N = 41) = 0. N = 41) = 3.81 p < .9.64.1.01 nor amused Note: The table indicates the percentage of participants who reported each response. increasing psychological distance violation. Study 5: psychological distance Because increasing psychological distance should make from the violation violations seem more benign. N = 41) = 0. social. p < . N = 80) = 16.05 Disgusted only  39  72 χ2(1.4. Hemenover & Schimmack.0. N = 80) = 2. scenario. χ2 test (low vs. χ2(1. p < . N = 39) = 0. p < . χ2(1.05 Amused only     6      6 — Neither disgusted nor amused    0      0 — Note: The table indicates the percentage of participants who reported each response.4.05 Both disgusted and amused  56  22 χ2(1. Participants in the far condition plotted Table 4. Bargh.42 p < .6. N = 41) = 1.com by SAGE Account on July 8. N = 41) = 1. a These p values were calculated using Fisher’s exact test. N = 80) = 2. Carol Burnett highlighted the role of temporal distance. Downloaded from pss. χ2(1. N = 36) = 4. χ2(1. N = 41) = 2. control) × 2 (psychological distance: far.80 p < . participants were ran- (Williams & Bargh. tive experiences into amusing ones.001 Disgusted only 0 31 21 χ2(1. p < . sian coordinate plane.18 2 2 Amused only 23 27 26 χ (1. N = 36) = 4. χ2(1.2. N = 39) = 4. 0 12 10 2 χ (1. 2008).04a p < . Response mitment mitment Total commitment) mitment mitment Total commitment) control) Disgusted 69 65 67 χ2(1. “Tragedy is when I cut my this experiment for partial course credit. p < .09 Neither 8 8 8 — 56 28 34 χ2(1.2.High com. Indeed. ostensibly to help develop a new stan- 2007.

05. 2010 .03 p < 1. domain of moral violations. Koestler. N = 40) = 0. After completing psychologically distant from the violation (Study 5). approximately 4 cm apart on the committed to the violated norm (Study 4). N = 32) = 0.07. χ2(1. 1964).8. a man marinating a exaggerated (greater hypotheticality or psychological dis- chicken.01. N = 72) = 48.0a p < 1. partici..001 2 Amused 73 39 58 χ (1. N = 40) = 4.001 amused Note: The table indicates the percentage of participants who reported each response. N = 32) = 0. hypothetical and thus psychologically distant.. 2001). however. N = 72) = 0.com by SAGE Account on July 8. Targets are more likely to be amused by teasing They also were more likely to report being both amused and that is less direct (multiple possible interpretations). Moral phrase (Veatch. slapstick. a These p values were calculated using Fisher’s exact test. and amusement. Response condition condition Total condition) condition condition Total condition) control) Disgusted 86 83 85 χ2(1.001 Both disgusted 64 28 47 χ2(1. including tick- Results. 2 p < . (12. 2001). The hypothesis. Slapstick humor also involves differ as a function of psychological distance (ps > . ling. indirect method pants primed to feel psychologically far from the violation of provocation that threatens the dignity of a target (Keltner were more amused than those primed to feel psychologically et al. less rele- disgusted (64% vs. N = 72) = 12. appears to be consistent with the benign-violation near the violation (73% vs.05.05. −8). 0 6 3 χ2(1.6. viding empirical support for the benign-violation hypothesis bly unrelated experiment. χ2(1. 2005. with very little emotion. responding “yes” or “no” to each We investigated the benign-violation hypothesis in the question. N = 72) = 21. (2. approximately 16 cm apart on violations are amusing when another norm suggests that the the coordinate plane. χ2(1.6. and these responses did not tance. N = 40) = 0.0a p < .05.02 p < . near Far Near χ2 test (far vs. N = 40) = 0. appears to explain humor across a range of domains. p < . they were disgusted.0a p < 1. χ2(1.1. N = 72) = 17. p < . Participants read about a man either and by showing that negative emotions can accompany laughter having sexual intercourse with (violation) or marinating (con. Partici. p < 1. N = 40) = 5. 7 11 9 χ (1.0a Neither 5 6    5 χ2(1. χ2(1.6.6. The findings also contribute to understanding trol) a chicken before cooking and eating it (see Table 2). (1993) as part of an ostensi. 10) and (−11. 0 6 3 χ2(1. and more pants responded to the control scenario. χ2(1.10. p < . 83%). is a benign violation tive of whether they were primed with far or near distance because it is a mock attack (Gervais & Wilson. see benign violations because the harmful or demeaning acts are Table 5 for results). N = 32) = 0. As previously discussed. when one is weakly points.3. behavioral displays of amusement (Study 2). 39%).61a p < . N = 40) = 0. N = 40) = 4. which often elicits laughter.0a p < . χ2(1.0a p < . and correct according to an alternative interpretation of a word or mixed emotions of amusement and disgust (Studies 3–5).1. and puns. p > .7. 2008). teasing. Downloaded from pss. vant to the targets’ self-concept (low commitment). points. χ2(1.  Results for Study 5 Violation version Control version Far Near χ2 test (far vs.07. −1).03 p < 1. However.34. 7 11 9 χ (1. Keltner et al. Similarly. 2 p < 1. Slapstick is less funny if it seems too real or if the viewer feels empathy for the victim.001 Amused only 9 11 10 χ2(1.2. 93 83 88 χ2(1.sagepub. and amused p < . They of moral psychology by showing that benign moral violations indicated whether or not they were amused and whether or not elicit laughter and amusement in addition to disgust. Most participants responded with disgust to the viola. near χ2 test (violation vs. (86% vs. Humorous puns also appear to be benign violations. We found that benign moral violations tend to elicit laughter because it violates a language convention but is technically (Study 1). tion. 4) and (−3. or when one feels coordinate plane (Williams & Bargh. tickling. disgusted nor p < 1. teasing.Benign Violations 7 Table 5. N = 32) = 0. irrespec. 0 0 0 — χ2(1.001 Disgusted only 23 56 38 χ2(1. 1998). hypothesis. which is a playful.8. Participants in the near condition plotted behavior is acceptable (Studies 2 and 3). N = 32) = 0. participants read one of two versions of a findings contribute to current understanding of humor by pro- scenario adapted from Haidt et al. 28%). N = 72) = 49.03. These the distance prime. N = 40) = 4.0a p < 1. Discussion A pun is funny.7.01. at least to people who care about language. a man having sexual intercourse with a chicken.01. N = 40) = 5.0a p < .

We leave this question to future Larsen.. condition were amused because the brand name. S. (2008). 34. 73. Coolidge. and simultaneity).. Psychology. serves a valuable communicative function (Martin. (2005). & Hersh. and Acknowledgments morality. 817–823.S. 655–669. R. R. W.sptimes. 229–248. amused than men. (1986). 1173–1182. emotions of conservatives and liberals. Notes Keltner. 325–330. and statistical considerations.. 1.A. Taboo trade-offs. also can Larsen. 239–264. (2001).. Journal of Applied Social ment signal to the world that a violation is indeed okay. (2007). Human Biology. & Tetlock.E. Science. . M. & Wilson. L. A. tickle. 684–696. reactions to disappointing wins and relieving losses. (1985). 2010 .. or is it wrong to eat your dog. Phil Tetlock. NY: Cornell University Press.. 15. McGraw. U.. Jeff Larsen. 2010. . but very amusing: Mixed feelings of amusement and disgust..shtml tions. 15. laughter and humor: A synthetic approach. The act of creation. D. McGraw. 395–430. 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