McGraw et al., Soc. Psych. & Pers. Sci., 2013
Figure 2. The humor perceived in three tweets about Hurricane Sandy. Panel A represents the time frame during which the crisis is realized. Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the Northeastern United States on October 30, 2012. Panel B represents the time frame after the crisis. The numbers (1–3) correspond to the tweets presented in Figure 1. Note. The x-axis is not linearly related to the dates of data collection.
When does joking about a tragedy stop being offensive?
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
That depends, say researchers in Colorado and Texas. They surveyed a thousand people before, after, and way after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. This hurricane was a useful one to study, in that this was one natural disaster everyone could see coming.
Participants rated three tweets as humorous, offensive, irrelevant, confusing, or just plain boring.
The day before Sandy hit, people liked the jokes, but as the tragedy unfolded, they found less to laugh about. Up to two weeks afterward, jokes like . . . JUST DESTROYED A STARBUCKS. NOW I’M A PUMPKIN SPICE HURRICANE—were D.O.A.
But after Day 15, people could laugh again. Still, comedic windows close quickly. Humor peaked at 36 days, then declined through the study's end on Day 99.
The researchers believe the perception of humor rises and falls based on whether we feel safe.
So remember this rhyme, comedians: Before 15 days, put jokes away; day 15 to 36, they’re back in the mix! Then . . . not so much. Okay, we’ll work on it.
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