Benign Violation Theory and Humor in the Workplace

Thanks to all those who attended Decoding Humor at Work. Despite the blizzard, many of you still came out to learn about benign violations of humor in the workplace. If you missed it, you'll never know what a 'too soon' comedy fail is. You could be experiencing it at this very moment, but will be in the dark. But we can catch you up to speed pretty quickly.

So just what did we learn last night from Professor Peter McGraw? Well...

  • McGraw's Benign Violation Theory integrates existing humor theories to propose that humor occurs when and only when three conditions are satisfied: (1) a situation is violation, (2) the situation is benign, and (3) both perceptions occur simultaneously. For example, play fighting and tickling, which produce laughter in humans (and other primates), are benign violations because they are physically threatening but harmless attacks. However, tickling yourself falls too far benign while walking up to a stranger and tickling them is too far a violation. You must find the balance.

Benign Violation Theory

  • In McGraw's Mad Men experiment, he showed us that using alcohol to fuel humor creation does tend to make things funnier — but only for those making the funny.

Drunk funny charts

  • Nerds like puns. End of story.

Funny business indeed. Thanks for making our evening great, folks. But it's not all for you. Any opportunity to unite the tech, athletic, business, academic or startup communities together just makes us giddy. We hope you'll join us at our other upcoming events and be punny with us.


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