Funny How?

The Three Sages

More on humor, courtesy of Machines Like Us:

Is Immoral Behavior Funny?

Caleb Warren and A. Peter McGraw, two psychological scientists from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder, argue that violations of norms are laughable, but only if benign.  If I actually shot the sheriff, it would not matter whether or not I killed the deputy.  If I really did it, it’s really serious.  McGraw explains:

“We laugh when Moe hits Larry because we know that Larry’s not really being hurt.  It’s a violation of social norms. You don’t hit people, especially a friend. But it’s okay because it’s not real.”

Here’s a link to a PDF of the paper, published in Psychological Science. Disclaimer:  It is not a knee-slapper.  In fact, the only thing we surely don’t need science to tell us is that the easiest way to ruin a joke is to explain it to death.

About the author

Ben Ehrlich

Ben Ehrlich's new book "The Dreams of Santiago Ramón y Cajal" will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016. Ben is a 2015 Salzburg Global Seminar fellow in Neuroscience and Art.

View all posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *