Humor is a funny thing. We know it when we see it, but identifying why something is humorous is another thing entirely.
In fact, explaining why a joke is funny is a pretty reliable way to sap it of all humor.
Yet, psychologists have taken on a more ambitious task: the task of explaining what differentiates the humorous from the unhumorous — the funny from the not-so-much.
In a paper published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologists Caleb Warren and Peter McGraw find support for what they call the “benign violation” theory of humor. According to this theory, humorous events share two critical characteristics: They involve a violation (something that seems threatening, wrong or negative), but the violation is experienced as benign(inconsequential or good, such that there’s nothing to worry about).
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