Peter McGraw

Associate Professor



Peter McGraw is an innovative researcher who has a talent for fostering community. During his academic career, he has received more than 15 awards, grants and honors. He has published more than 30 papers in outlets such as the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Management Science, Psychological Science, and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His work has been covered by the BBC, NPR, MSNBC, Scientific American, Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times. Most recently, McGraw made the 2013 Stylish Scientist List – probably because he likes to wear a sweater vest.

Dr. McGraw’s research examines the interrelationship of judgment, emotion, and choice, with a focus on consumer behavior and public policy. He has recently turned his attention to the question of what makes things funny, and its implications for marketing and management. The advantage that he has over his predecessors is his ability to conduct state-of-the-art experiments with the help of the team he directs at the Humor Research Lab (aka HuRL), a laboratory dedicated to the experimental study of humor, its antecedents and consequences.

McGraw has co-authored a book, The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, which hits bookstores on 4/1/2014.


A full list of publications is available at Professor McGraw's website.


  • Ph.D., Quantitative Psychology (Judgment and Decision Making)
    The Ohio State University
  • M.A., Quantitative Psychology (Judgment and Decision Making)
    The Ohio State University
  • M.Ed, Educational Psychology (Learning & Cognition)
    Rutgers University
  • B.A., Psychology and Exercise Science
    Rutgers University


Ever wonder why people laugh at inappropriate comments, what makes an heirloom invaluable, or why an Olympic athlete might be unhappy to win a medal? These interesting questions that focus on the relationship between emotions, judgment, and decisions are just a few examples of McGraw’s research questions.

McGraw directs three unique interdisciplinary research laboratories – the Judgment, Emotion and Choice Laboratory (JECL), the Moral Research Laboratory (MoRL) and the Humor Research Laboratory (HuRL). His current work includes developing a theory of mixed emotions, examining how businesses could better use humor, and investigating how consumers go about purchasing funerals and weddings.

Research Interests

  • Consumer Psychology
  • Judgment and Choice
  • Emotion
  • Moral Psychology
  • Humor


McGraw’s teaching is primarily focused on the Leeds School’s popular Buyer Behavior course. He also regular teaches a doctoral seminar on judgment and decision making. Whenever possible, he draws on new research in consumer psychology to inform his classes about emerging evidence in the field. He also takes a unique approach to his teaching by focusing not only on the firm’s marketing strategies but also on consumer education – so that students (consumers themselves) can be more effective in the marketplace. Finally, McGraw likes to have some fun in the classroom and hosts a class “Olympics” that features competitions in various events, such as bowling, kickball, and trivia bowl.

Teaching Interests

  • Consumer Behavior
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Advertising and Promotion Management



Reframing taboo trade-offs in religious and pharmaceutical marketing

Authors: A. Peter McGraw, Janet A. Schwartz, and Philip E. Tetlock

Communal justifications used by communallyfocused organizations are particularly effective when consumers are not closely monitoring the motives of the organization or when the product is need-based. However, communal justifications become less effective and market-pricing justifications become more effective when consumers are attuned to the persuasive intentions of the organization.



Benign Violations : Making Immoral Behavior Funny

June 2010

Author: A. Peter McGraw

Humor is an important, ubiquitous phenomenon; however, seemingly disparate conditions seem to facilitate humor. We integrate these conditions by suggesting that laughter and amusement result from violations that are simultaneously seen as benign.



Valuing Money and Things: Why a $20 Item Can Be Worth More and Less Than $20

May 2010

Authors: A. Peter McGraw, Eldar Shafir, and Alexander Todorov

Monetary gambles, as it turns out, may be processed and evaluated differently than gambles with nonmonetary outcomes. Whereas monetary gambles involve numeric amounts that can be straightforwardly combined with probabilities to yield at least an approximate “expectation” of value, nonmonetary outcomes are typically not numeric and do not lend themselves to easy combination with the associated probabilities.



  • Sterling-Rice Research Award (2010)
  • Marketing Science Institute Grant (2010, 2011)
  • Professor of the Game, CU Men's Basketball (2010)
  • Big XII Faculty Fellowship (2006, 2010)
  • Best Paper, Society for Consumer Psychology Winter Conference (2009)
  • Guiney Research and Teaching Award, Leeds School of Business (2008)
  • Transformative Consumer Research Grant (2008)
  • Marketing Science Institute Young Scholar (2007)


The science of laughter

Boston Globe

October 2, 2011

Associate Professor Pete McGraw spoke about his "benign violation theory" at the International Society for Humor Studies’ annual conference, the main event in a global subculture of actual university professors who study what makes people laugh.

Does politicians’ fear of blame hinder the war on terror?

Washington Post

August 26, 2011

Politicians might not have much incentive to prepare for the most likely kind of terrorist attacks according to a recent paper coauthored by associate professor Pete McGraw.

To Dodge Blame, Officials Prepare Public For Worst


August 31, 2011

Associate professor Pete McGraw discusses his, paper “A policy maker’s dilemma: Preventing terrorism or preventing blame” in light of recent disasters.

Peter McGraw puts on his lab coat to look at the science of laughter

Montreal Gazette

July 2, 2011

The Leeds School professor will be studying both the comedians and the responding audiences at the Just for Laughs festival in the hopes that he can find some definitive answers.

What It Takes To Win The New Yorker's Cartoon Caption Contest

Leeds School of Business

April 25, 2011

Professor Peter McGraw teams up with The New Yorker Cartoon Editor to unlock the code behind the magazine’s celebrated Cartoon Caption Contest.

Past Events


Behavioral Decision Research in Management Conference

June 27–29, 2012

St. Julien Hotel
Boulder, CO 80302

The Behavioral Decision Research in Management Conference is held biennially and brings together the best of behavioral research within, but not limited to, the areas of consumer behavior, organizational behavior, negotiation, managerial decision making, behavioral finance, experimental and behavioral economics, decision analysis, behavioral strategy, behavioral operations research, behavioral accounting, and medical and legal decision making.


How to check your hotel room for bed bugs

Posted: November 13, 2013

The next time you check into a hotel, I suggest you check for bed bugs. What do you do if you find evidence of bed bugs? A) Grab your bag. B) Go to the front desk. C) Tell an associate that your room has bed bugs. D) Enjoy an upgraded room.

The post How to check your hotel room for bed bugs appeared first on Peter McGraw.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: A Tablet of Key Messages for Entrepreneurs and Managers

Posted: November 06, 2013

Guest post today. I assigned the Innovator’s Dilemma to my undergraduate Consumer Behavior class. I also gave them an assignment: Write a blog post that describes the important takeaway messages from the Innovator’s Dilemma for A) managers and B) entrepreneurs. (Hint: those conclusions are different.) Motivate your message with an example of a disruptive technology [...]

The post The Innovator’s Dilemma: A Tablet of Key Messages for Entrepreneurs and Managers appeared first on Peter McGraw.

Why are haunted houses funny?

Posted: October 30, 2013

Have you been to a haunted house recently? There are two kinds of comedy associated with haunted houses: You observe people being scared and then laughing about it. You laugh at people’s reactions to being scared. Both seem to be happening here. Check out more here. Alf Lamont, a friend and supporter of the Humor [...]

The post Why are haunted houses funny? appeared first on Peter McGraw.


Policy Maker's Dilemma: Preventing Terrorism or Preventing Blame

Dr. Peter McGraw discusses his research about preventing terrorist acts, how the U.S. government acts and how the public responds. McGraw spoke with NPR's Shankar Vedantam on All Things Considered on Aug. 31, 2011, about this topic.