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Psychological Distance

  • By: A. Peter McGraw
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

When Mark Twain said, “Humor is tragedy plus time,” he intuitively understood how distance from an aversive event can facilitate humor. Mel Brooks also acknowledged the role of distance when he famously quipped, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” Indeed, experiencing something as close or far away—what scientists call psychological distance— is an important factor in humor appreciation. This entry discusses how distance helps or harms humor and offers a theoretical account of its role in humor appreciation.

Sometimes Distance Helps Humor

In some cases, psychological distance makes things funnier. This is especially true for highly aversive events. There are four ways that something can seem close or far away, and each can help transform ...

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