Laughter and Learning: Humor Boosts Retention
The famous wisecrack attributed to E.B. White states that “Humor can be dissected, just as a frog can, but the item dies in the process.” If teachers are to consider harnessing the powerful effects of humour, not only to increase joy and enhance the classroom environment, but also to improve learner outcomes, a type of scientific dissection must take place at the risk of committing some sort of “humor-cide.” This dissection must take place at the risk of committing some sort of “humor-cide.”
The Sense of Wonder Is Linked to the Laughter Bone in the Brain
Teachers are aware that laughter naturally brings people together. How many times have you been exposed to the same knock-knock joke that asks “Orange who?” that has been passed through your classroom? By lowering people’s barriers and bringing them closer together, comedy has a way of automatically fostering a sense of community (PDF, 731KB), thanks to its infectious quality. Laughter is the natural reaction of the brain when it is confronted with an inconsistency and the problem is solved in an unexpected way. As our minds try to make sense of the discrepancy in this line, which states that “Memorization is what we resort to when what we are learning makes no sense,” we can find ourselves smiling.
Since comedy, in its most basic form, stimulates our sense of wonder, which is the point at which learning begins, it seems to reason that humour could also improve retention. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research, viewers of comedic news programmes like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report had a better memory for recent events than those who obtained their information from newspapers, cable news networks like CNN and Fox News, or network television stations. When Stephen Colbert poses the question, “What kind of future are we leaving for our children if we don’t reduce expensive things like Head Start, child nutrition programmes, and teachers?” viewers laugh, but they also remember the awareness that this particular budget issue is being discussed.
There is a large corpus of research that explains why we remember things that make us laugh, such as our favourite hilarious incident from high school or the specifics of that amusing movie that we saw over the weekend. Dopamine is important for both goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory, and educational research indicates that appropriately applied humour can be an effective intervention to improve retention in students from kindergarten through college. Neuroscience research reveals that humour systematically activates the brain’s dopamine reward system. Cognitive studies show that dopamine is important for both goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory.
Foolishness as a Tool
What exactly does it mean to utilise a phrase “correctly”? Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the research that was done in the classroom to find out. In one study, the researchers asked nearly 400 college students to document the appropriate or inappropriate use of humour by their teachers, as well as their efficacy as teachers, and how the students regarded the humour. The findings of this study demonstrated that relevant and suitable humour led to enhanced recall, whereas cruel, inappropriate, or unconnected humour did not have the same effect. The study also found that humour can be seen and appreciated without enhancing retention. This means that a student may believe a teacher is “funny,” but they may not exhibit an improvement in retention as a result of this perception. Therefore, simply making your pupils laugh could attract their attention, but it might not lead to enhanced memory of the information. These researchers came to the conclusion that the most effective method for increasing retention is to use humour that is relevant to the subject being taught.
“Recent polls indicate that fifty-one percent of respondents make up the majority of the population.” Have you cracked a chuckle at that joke about statistics? When you think of content-related humour, statistics probably isn’t the first discipline that comes to mind. However, researchers were curious about whether or not humour could boost retention even in classes that are traditionally considered “dry.” College students were asked to listen to lectures on statistics either with or without content-related comedy for the purpose of this study. They were then examined on their knowledge of the content and asked to submit questionnaires regarding how much they enjoyed the lectures. The findings of the test and the survey showed that students retained the most information from the lectures that contained content-related comedy, and they also reported having more fun during the encounter.
What are your thoughts on using comedy with teenagers? Consider the findings of research that indicate adolescents tend to release more dopamine and have more dopamine receptors than adults. If the thought of using humour in front of a classroom full of judgmental teenagers makes you more nervous than a novice teacher in his or her first parent-teacher conference, you should think about these findings. It is possible that adolescents are uniquely predisposed to respond favourably to instructional comedy due to the hyper-responsiveness of the dopamine reward system in their bodies. You may try telling your pupils a humorous anecdote, or you could encourage them to incorporate humorous instances into their work or discussions. Teach Like a Pirate is full of fantastic suggestions that can be utilised to improve the level of humour present in a high school setting.
For decades, the television programme Sesame Street for children has made effective use of comedic timing and content. Could you answer a question correctly about something you learned from watching Sesame Street when you were younger? Most certainly, yeah. You may recall the goofy antics of Grover, Mr. Noodles’ unending perplexity, or Big Bird’s efforts to convince his buddies that Mr. Snuffleupagus was a genuine character. Because of this, the researchers decided to use episodes of Sesame Street to investigate the effect that comedy has on young children’s ability to remember information and become engaged in that information. Students in kindergarten and first grade were given the option of seeing a Sesame Street segment that was either amusing or not comical. The children who saw the hilarious episodes scored higher and exhibited a higher level of involvement than the children who were in the control group when the content was evaluated. Their engagement carried over to the more serious parts of the sessions, which resulted in an overall improvement in their capacity to remember the material.
The following are some suggestions for employing humour to boost retention, all of which are validated by research:
Do Use humour to improve classroom delight
Make use of laughter to foster a sense of community.
Use comedy that is relevant to the material.
Make use of comedy that is age-appropriate.
“Sandwich” comedy in the middle of instructional and reiterative passages
Cruel or inappropriate humour
Too much humour
About That Frog. . .
To summarise, we can look to a meta-analysis of forty years’ worth of research on educational humour, which indicates that humour increases the strength of human connections and that non-aggressive, relevant, and appropriate humour appears to be a helpful learning tool. This research was conducted in the United States. It would appear to be especially beneficial to insert humour in between the periods of education and repetition. As the authors of this meta-analysis point out, not everyone has a sense of humour by nature, so teachers shouldn’t try to force it on their students. Experiencing extreme awkwardness while one watches another person attempt to be hilarious is not only counterproductive, but it also defeats the objective. Irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration might be challenging to comprehend for younger pupils due to variations in developmental stages. This is something that must be taken into consideration.
In spite of the fact that we may have boiled the proverbial frog in this research, the findings of these studies suggest that including relevant, topic-specific humour into the process of reinforcing key concepts can be a fruitful way to boost memory recall. The pathways in the brain that are responsible for learning new information can be strengthened through the use of humor’s ability to systematically activate the dopamine reward system.