The Psychology Of FAIL Videos

Since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of YouTube), people have been laughing out loud at the misfortunes of others. FAIL videos account for over a billion YouTube views, but what is it that makes them so appealing?

Hey, did you see that video where that grape lady falls and she’s on the ground screaming in agony? Haha, yeah…that was hilarious. Since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of YouTube), people have been laughing out loud at the misfortunes of others. FAIL videos account for over a billion YouTube views, but what is it that makes them so appealing?

FAILBlog is the fifth most popular channel on YouTube, with over 1.3 billion upload views. People love watching FailBlog’s faceplants, falls, parking snafus, injuries, television bloopers and other general failures. Check out the following compilation of FAIL videos from our Ultimate Guide to Viral Videos and see if they make you want to laugh, or cry:

Now I should point out that I’m no psychologist. However, I have done a bit of research, and some thinking on my own, and I think I’ve come up with a few answers to the question of why we find FAIL videos so amusing. To the psychologists out there – please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

The Element of Surprise

Many FAIL videos are funny because they are unexpected. We don’t expect a news reporter to accidentally say a curse word while reading the news; we don’t expect it to take someone 15 minutes to park a car in a space with easy access; we don’t expect a security guard to trip, fall and leave his gun behind when trying to catch a perp; and when we see something that’s surprising and unexpected our first instinct is to laugh.

Take, for instance, check out the ‘Balloon Fail’ video below. Who would expect a guy to try to squeeze his way inside a giant balloon? And who would expect the guy’s pants to fall off on the way out? And who would expect the weird air humping at 2:06? You have to admit that this is totally bizarre, and probably not something that should be laughed at. But it’s hilarious because it’s just so weird and unexpected.

It’s a little bit harder to understand why people would laugh at someone’s pain and agony. However, I think we can use roughly the same explanation. When I watch the YouTube hit ‘Grape Lady Falls’, where a news reporter falls while stomping grapes I can’t help but grin a little, and with over 7.7 million views I’m not the only one. I’m not laughing at this woman’s pain (which is clearly very, very bad), but I’m laughing because you’d never expect something like this to happen on the news. And the anchors back in the studio can’t seem to believe it either. They don’t know what to say.

Of course, this kind of humor isn’t for everyone. My mom told me that she could hardly sit through all of ‘Grape Lady Falls’. Maybe it’s because she’s broken her ankle and knows that it’s not a laughing matter, or maybe she’s just lucky to be untouched by the sickness that makes Generation’s X and Y enjoy watching this sort of thing.

Like my mom, I don’t generally enjoy watching FAIL videos in which it looks like people get seriously hurt and honestly I’m not quite sure who the hundreds of thousands of people watching videos like the one below are, and why they find them funny. I like to see the people get up again to show that they are okay before I start laughing. Do you find the video below to be funny, or painful? Why do you think someone would laugh at something like this? And beware: the video below is not pretty, so if you tend to get queasy from watching people get hurt, you may want to skip out on this one.

The Element of Disbelief

Another reason why people are so drawn into FAIL videos (in my humble opinion) is the element of disbelief – particularly, the idea that we cannot believe the people in these videos are so stupid. For instance, does the woman in the video really think she’s singing in English?

And does this guy really think he’s looking at a picture of a horse?

The Ego Stroke

Finally, I think that a lot of people enjoy watching FAIL videos in order to stroke their own ego. They look at the people in the videos and think, “Haha, look at that idiot. I would never do something that stupid.”

For instance, would you ever be in a position where you attempted to park in a parking space for 4 minutes, until finally someone else got in your car and parked it (in the same spot you were trying) in 7 seconds? Watching the video below will probably make you feel pretty good about your own parking skills. Can you believe anyone could be so bad at parking?

Have you ever thought about why we are so drawn to FAIL videos? What reasons have you come up with?