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Show me the words! How humor and images accelerate learning

Show me the words! How humor and images accelerate learning

When something is funny and visual, it’s much more memorable. From an educational standpoint, the solution is obvious: use humor and images to help children learn better.

“The perfect recipe for memorability”

Have you ever noticed how good your child is at reciting lines from their favorite cartoon, and wished they had the same capacity for learning their schoolwork? Actually, they do. The key is that cartoons are funny, and they’re visual. And research shows that this is the perfect recipe for memorability.

Edu-comedy pioneers Robert Kaplan and Gregory Pascoe were among the first scholars to make a link between humor and learning. Their groundbreaking 1977 study found that funny lecture content “significantly increased recall” for their students,[1] and a number of later studies came to the same conclusion.[2]

“Motivation and long-term memory”

Of course, there’s science behind this phenomenon. A study by neuroscientist Roy Wise found that humor activates the brain’s dopamine reward system (you know, like chocolate), and that this pleasure chemical is crucial both for motivation and long-term memory.[3]

In other words, not only does humor make children learn, it makes them want to learn. And if that wasn’t enough, it has also been proven to build confidence and relieve stress.[4]

“An educational double-whammy”

Images, meanwhile, have long been known to aid learning, and are especially effective for building children’s vocabulary. As well as being particularly handy for grabbing the attention of disengaged students, pictures make comprehension much faster and make the words they accompany more memorable.[5] If the pictures are funny, that’s an educational double-whammy.

All of this has exciting implications for vocabulary learning. As well as making language acquisition more fun and engaging, pairing words with funny, relatable images means that children learn them much more quickly. And best of all, they get a healthy dose of dopamine without switching on the TV.

    1. Kaplan, R. and Pascoe, G. (1977) Humorous Lectures and Humorous Examples: Some Effects upon Comprehension and Retention.Journal of Educational Psychology. 69 (1), pp. 61-65.
    2. Banas, J., Dunbar, N., Rodriguez, D. and Liu, S. (2011) A Review of Humor in Educational Settings: Four Decades of Research. Communication Education. 60 (1), pp. 115-144.
    3. Wise, R. (2004) Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 5, pp. 483-494.
    4. Minchew, S. And Hopper, P. (2008) Techniques for Using Humour and Fun in the Language Arts Classroom. The Clearing House. 81, (5), pp. 167-80.
Chambers, B., Cheung, C.K., Madden, N., Slavin, R. and Gifford, R. (2006) Achievement effects of embedded multimedia in a Success for All reading program. Journal of Educational Psychology. 98 (1) pp. 232-237.