The Rise and Fall of Humor

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McGraw, Williams, and Warren (2013) asked a question that required research in a situation where people are generally uncomfortable and scared. They wanted to know how much time can pass after a tragedy for people to find humor in it. The researchers conducted an online survey that had a total of 1,064 participants (407 female) from the Amazon Mechanical Turk network (McGraw et al., 2013).

In order to understand how humor works with tragedy, McGraw, Williams, and Warren (2013) took the understanding of humor, knowing it is an effective coping tool, and attempted to find the time, psychological distance, and emotion to find when people find humor in tragedy. McGraw et al. tested the belief that the passage of time increases humor in the face of tragedy; however, found consistency with the benign violation theory of humor and inconsistency from the belief that as time passes, humor increases (McGraw et al.). This study is an experimental research method because the main independent variable is time. The researchers decided when the three tweets were posted into two time frames. The first was between October 29, 2012, to November 7, 2012, (McGraw et al.) and the second time frame of November 14, 2012, to February 6, 2013 (McGraw et al.).

Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 30 and people learned about all of the damage, deaths, and billions of dollars that the storm caused (Blake, Kimberlain, Berg, Canglialosi, & Beven, 2013). On October 29, the first day the tweets were posted, the damage that would come from the storm was unknown and all hypothetical. Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the northeastern United States (New York and New Jersey) leaving millions of people without electricity. The dependent variable is when people found humor again in the tweets about the tragic hurricane and the damage it caused.

The procedure: McGraw et al. ran an online survey where participants were asked to respond to three tweets (short messages posted on the social media platform twitter.com) from an account they created, “@AHurricaneSandy” (McGraw et al.) to be “funny, humorous, upsetting, offensive, boring, irrelevant, and confusing on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely) (McGraw et al., 2013, p. 3). Finally, participants gave demographic information (age, gender) and information of their geographical location (country and state) (McGraw et al). The information of where the participants were located allowed for the researchers to measure the geographical distance (miles) from New York (McGraw et al.).

The results showed that there is a specific time range of when people will find humor with tragedy. In the analysis timing was the between-participant variable and the geographical distance was a covariate (McGraw et al.). The main finding was the humor that each tweet provoked so some of the tweets were meant to be funnier than the others, while the geographic variable had no significant effect on the results.

The most important factor and result was that humor varied across time. Just before the storm hit, and the damage was still unbeknownst, the tweets were found humorous, but, within 10 days after the storm and the psychological reality hit, humor declined (McGraw et al.). When the tweets were sent out again on November 14, 2012, 15 days after the storm, the researchers and results showed that it was “too soon” to find humor (McGraw et al.).


Overall, the experiment is well done. McGraw et al. did a really good job measuring humor and tragedy. Using a big social media platform like Twitter is a really good way to get quick responses and a way to know that they will always get responses because people are always on social media. Using a survey is a very effective way to get answers because they are very affordable, and they are convenient. The equations the researchers used to find the relevance of certain aspects is really important as well because different aspects like geographic distance can play a role in a person’s reaction.

I also agree with the two demographics that were measured, age and gender, because these are two variables that play a role in life in general. McGraw et al. interpreted the findings well but also broadly. The wording that was chosen, “too soon” or a “too late” (p. 6), is vague. The study is reliable (meaning it can be repeated) because hurricanes occur every year and we see this from the results. The experiment is valid. The researchers found the results of that was intended to be tested of finding out when humor is appropriate to use after and just before tragedy strikes.

Hurricanes are natural disasters that humans have no control over. They are storms that we can predict but we never quite know what the damage will be like. So if this experiment were to be replicated and extended, researchers should also test how long it takes to find humor from tragedies that are caused by other people. For example, September 11th is a day that most people still do not joke about. McGraw et al. surveyed the time it took for a tragedy to be funny and joked about. The extension of the experiment could be the addition of not only joking about the storm before and after it hit, but also creating an account about another human global issue that is prominent.

The method that is used in the article is a good way to address issues because almost everyone has either one or multiple social media accounts. It is a free way to get a lot of accurate answers quickly and for free which makes the experiment reliable, valid, and effective. There are a lot of ways that researchers can manipulate the independent variables and accurately measure the dependent variables without many extraneous variables.

The experimental study that was conducted is valid because the McGraw et al. fond the answers that were needed for their hypothesis with accuracy. The study’s reliability is shown by is consistency from the survey responses, but there is a need for the experiment to be tested with the tragedy from other humans, not just natural disasters. The interpretation of the findings are easy to understand and make sense because there is a fine line between the time of a tragedy that affects many people, and when humor is an appropriate coping tool to be publicly used.

The ethical debate of this research study would be how appropriate or how inappropriate are the tweets that were sent out by the researchers. In this case, the tweets remained appropriate and humorous so ethically the research was in line. The results that were found in this study are strong. McGraw et al. found valid and reliable results that proved true to their question without bias. Because a survey was used, there was no way for the researchers to interpret the results in any different way than the participants meant which proves surveys as an effective tool.

Overall, the study is conducted very well and the results allow for other researchers and experimenters another study to compare their own findings to. The experimental study should be tested again with human to human tragedy and not just a natural disaster tragedy, but, for this particular case, McGraw et al. stayed true to finding when people use humor and find humor to cope from tragedy.

Brief Summary

McGraw, Williams, and Warren (2013) conducted a survey just before and right after one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the northeastern United States to find when people use humor to cope and how far away they have to be from the tragedy to show emotion toward it. By using the social media platform, twitter, McGraw et al. posted three tweets with the handle @AHurricaneSandy and asked people to rate how humorous they found the tweets.

Divided into two time frames, McGraw et al. found that just before the hurricane hit and hundreds of lives were lost along with billions of dollars in damages, people found the tweets fairly funny. However, after the hurricane hit and people realized all of the damage it caused, McGraw et al. saw a dramatic decrease in how many people found the tweets funny. They asked a few other questions and found that there is a specific time of when humor is beneficial for coping, and when it is not. It cannot be used “too soon,” nor can it be used “too late.”


Cite this paper

 The Rise and Fall of Humor. (2021, Jun 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-rise-and-fall-of-humor/

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