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Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Does Humor Help Students Remember?

By Emily Falk — April 14, 2021 1 min read
How does humor help kids learn?
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Students will talk in class about a funny sketch they saw online, but are they really learning about what’s going on in the world? What does research say?
Humor can be a powerful tool. Here’s something I wrote about the topic recently for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:
My grandmother always opens our conversations with, “So, tell me something!”
When I was a teenager, I often felt paralyzed, thinking, “What do you want to know?”
But then I discovered a trick: I loved watching late-night parodies of the news like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, and I would repurpose their jokes to make her laugh. That motivated me to watch more carefully, so I could remember the details to share later—and even to consult other news sources for context.
Although some might consider watching comedy shows to be “wasting time,” recent research shows their value: Humor helps people remember information and makes them want to talk about it. When shown policy-related news with a punch line, young adults recalled the facts better and were more interested in sharing the information compared with those presented with straight news.
Why might this be the case? One possibility is that humor increases the social benefits of sharing—if you make someone laugh, you enjoy your time together more, and they might think you’re witty. And anticipating that reaction can encourage you to remember the information when you first see it.
Students learn information better when asked to teach peers, so if watching comedy gets them to talk about the news, it might help them learn more about current events in the process. To share a comic bit successfully, you need to know what’s going on in the world to understand why it’s funny—and why some topics and situations don’t lend themselves to joking.
Don’t think that because a show uses satire or parody, it isn’t teaching serious information about current events.
Do encourage the young people in your life to share what they are watching as a way to start a deeper conversation about what is going on in the world and in their heads—topics that otherwise feel harder to launch into from that initial “tell me something!”

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The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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