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Humor as a Learning Tool: The Science Behind it is No Joke

person with makeshift electrotherapy helmet

Humor as a Learning Tool: The Science Behind it is No Joke

Why did the unemployed zookeeper jump into the snake pit?

Because he thought he had COBRA coverage!

That, my friends, is what they call a “joke.” And whether you laughed, groaned, or gritted your teeth at it, I can guarantee it’ll stick around in your mind for a while. At the very least, it’ll stick around longer than if I had written something like…

“A man recently laid off by the Oregon Zoo made a fatal error when, assuming he was qualified for post-termination insurance benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, he dove headfirst into a pit of snakes.”

See what I mean? Sure, perhaps my joke wasn’t the most tasteful way to convey that story, but it was the most effective.

You don’t need to take my word for it. Over on their blog, the wonderful people at Jellyvision recently used science to explain why humor improves information retention.

For those unfamiliar, Jellyvision are the creators of an interactive software platform called ALEX that helps employees choose health insurance plans, save for retirement, and manage their finances. Humor and education are in the company’s DNA—prior to shifting its focus to employee benefits, Jellyvision created learning videos and games like You Don’t Know Jack.

According to Jellyvision, the jokes and humorous asides within ALEX not only ameliorate some of the stress associated with complex and difficult life decisions, but actually facilitate decision-making. Here’s what they say:

“[W]hile it’s true that we, like you, enjoy smiling, and get a kick out of trying to make employees all over the country smile, we don’t put humor into ALEX just because we enjoy making employees feel a little happier and a little less stressed out—though that certainly is part of it.

No, the main reason we incorporate humor into our ALEX conversations is that over and over again, humor has been scientifically proven to 1) keep people more engaged, 2) improve people’s comprehension of complex information, and 3) help people retain more information, longer.

In other words, we use humor to talk about confusing benefits stuff because using humor gets amazing results.

  • Students who were presented a humorous lecture had a mean recall score of 88.43—more than 11 points higher than that of a group sat through the same lecture with jokes removed.
  • A similar study showed an even more significant result, with the recall score of the humor group at 69.04 and the non-humor group’s at 49.98.
  • Jellyvision customers who experienced the standard (humorous) version of a course found it 4% more helpful than users who experienced a less-humorous version.

Read more.

You don’t need to be a benefits or science nerd to understand the key takeaways here. Namely, don’t be afraid to inject a little humor or levity into your workforce programs—the potential boost in performance is no joke.

Also, don’t jump into a pit of snakes.

About The Author

Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

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