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Humor Effect

Humor Effect: The Benefits of Using Humor

Humor effect is a cognitive bias that causes you to remember funny information better. Besides better memory, humor has numerous positive effects. The humor effect is already a well-used technique by companies such as Zappos, Virgin, and Google. To stimulate humor these companies have organized things like Nerf gun battles or ‘Tutu Tuesdays’, in their workspaces. This may sound like a rather distractive addition to an office, but quite the opposite is true. According to the humor effect, humor has a positive effect on memory, wellbeing, attractiveness, and productivity. A Nerf gun suddenly sounds like a much more relevant investment don’t you think?

How does the Humor Effect work?

1. From a Cognitive Perspective

On the brain level, there are two reasons why humor helps memory. First, understanding a joke costs your brain more effort as opposed to ‘standard’ information. As a result of the elongated processing time, the information gets stronger connections in the brain. This is similar to the Bizarreness effect, where it is also true that information is remembered better because it does not immediately make sense to you. Second, humor in essence has an emotional arousal tied to it, as it is meant to give you a good laugh. This gives the memory yet another connection in the brain, namely to the emotional centers. Because of these two reasons information acquired humorously has stronger connections in the brain and will therefore be better remembered.

2. From a Behavioral Perspective

Also from a behavioral perspective, the humor effect works simply because people tend to have a heightened interest in funny information. This results in a higher focus, which in turn results in better remembering of the information. Furthermore, fun memories tend to get retrieved more often. Telling the story of how your colleague forgot he was not wearing pants during one of the numerous zoom calls at a dinner party is often better entertainment than talking about the mathematical problem you are working on in class. By retrieving the story about your colleague you activate and consolidate the information in your brain even more.

Conveniently, humor can also help when having to bring information that is unpleasant to hear. Processing unpleasant information can be difficult because the emotional load blocks your brain. By giving it a humorous twist, this emotional blockage can be lifted, which gives you space to process and store the information. Science has also shown that humor has a positive effect on general wellbeing. Hearing or seeing something funny creates happy feelings and has a relaxing effect. Which in turn increases your productivity.

Lastly, humor can make you more attractive. Wait, what? Yes, you have read it correctly. This can be explained through another cognitive bias, the halo effect. This effect entails the tendency people have to spill over positive personality traits from one area to another area. In the context of humor, humorous people can get viewed as smarter, nicer, or even more attractive.

How to put the Humor Effect to use?

Being able to remember the story of your colleague on the zoom call is nice and all, but how can you actually put the humor effect to use in more relevant situations? For those of you who now feel pressure to book a stand-up comedy training and turn their lectures into the new Seinfeld show can take a breather. Science shows that you do not have to make one joke after another to enjoy the benefits of the humor effect. The effects are shown to last for information displayed after the joke has been made as well. 

This can be explained by the general effect on wellbeing caused by humor and additionally the heightened interest that is activated. Whats more, joking too much can even have a contrasting effect, as it might make you look clownish, which will cost you your credibility. Some other things to keep in mind while joking are; timing, style, amount, delivery, and type of joke. For all these accounts; Know your audience! The same joke that made your friends tear up at the Saturday night party, might cost you your job if you tell it during the Monday morning stand-up. Those are not the kind of tears we want to cause by telling jokes.

Now that you have some tips of how to use humor here follow some practical applications:

Research comparing two statistics classes, where one uses humor and the other does not show that by using an occasional joke grades were significantly increased. Using humor in your lectures is therefore an effective way to make your audience remember your information better. I still well remember a teacher of mine showing how correlations get misinterpreted as causal in my first years’ research method course. He showed a series of very bizarre ‘causal’ relations, such as how eating more ice cream causes more deaths. This was of course just some random correlation. This study also showed that using humor which is related to the information you are trying to pass on works best. 

The humor effect is not only interesting from an educational perspective, but also for marketing. Using a funny slogan will make people remember your brands better and will create an emotional link with the brand. One of my personal favorites is the slogan of MasterCard, which goes as follows: ‘There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard’. 

Last Words From Us

As stated before several successful companies incorporated some ‘fun’ on the work floor. Some of the activities, such as Nerf gun battles and ‘tutu Tuesday’ might sound a bit extreme, but luckily it is often not about the activity itself. It does not have to be expensive or spectacular, it is about laughing and having fun together, which creates a bond between colleagues and a rested, happy feeling for the employees. And this accounts for all effects of humor previously mentioned. With a small effort, you can achieve great benefits. So, don’t forget to have a laugh today and share your smiles with the people surrounding you. And for those of you who are simply looking to pick someone up in the bar tonight, just make some jokes!

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