Does this story sound familiar?

“Several days ago as I left a meeting at our church, I desperately gave myself a personal TSA – style pat down.  I was looking for my keys.  They were not in my pockets.  A quick search in the meeting room revealed nothing.”

“Suddenly I realized, I must have left them in the car.  Frantically, I headed for the parking lot.  My wife, Diane, has scolded me many times for leaving the keys in the ignition.  My theory is the ignition is the best place not to lose them.  Her theory is that the car will be stolen.  As I burst through the doors of the church, I came to a terrifying conclusion.  Her theory was right.  The parking lot was empty.

“I immediately call the police.  I gave them my location, confessed that I had left my keys in the car, and that it had been stolen.  Then I made the most difficult call of all, “Honey,” I stammered.  (I always call her “honey” in times like these.)  “I left my keys in the car, and it has been stolen.”

“There was a period of silence.  I thought the call had been dropped, but then I heard Diane’s voice. “Ken!” she barked, “I dropped you off!”  Now it was my time to be silent.  Embarrassed, I said, “Well, come and get me.”  Diane retorted, “I will, as soon as I convince this policeman I have not stolen your car!”

Now, even though you may not have gotten that far in the memory loss department, it does point up one important fact to know, laughing and humor can create new neuropathways – brain cell connections, and this scenario may never happen to you.

Put more humor into your life. It reduces stress, makes your attitude more positive, and opens the pathways to better learning and memory.

A research paper titled, “The Impact of Humor on Memory: Is the Humor Effect about Humor?” was recently accepted for publication in Humor: International Journal of Humor Research. The author, Valparaiso University psychology professor Dr. Kieth Carlson, gives new insights as to why people remember things better when they are presented with humor.

In order to test whether the humor, or another outside variable, makes a difference Dr. Carlson found his inspiration in a series of posters that are humorous outtakes of inspirational posters (parodies) found in many offices. He duplicated the same images and keywords but used humorous phrases in one set, leaving the inspirational ones alone. After volunteers viewed the photos they were asked to recall the keywords. In every case the humorous phrases were more easily recalled, with a 50% variance in recall. 

“That’s a very large effect to observe, as a 25 percent variance generally is considered a large effect,” Dr. Carlson said.

This is one of the reasons advertisers use humor in marketing their products. This effect can have positive and negative ramifications, however. “In the real world there are other factors affecting memory that can’t be controlled,” he said. “Ads that are too funny are often remembered more for being funny than for promoting a particular product.” “In order for humor to be beneficial to advertisers,” Dr. Carlson says, “the humor used in an ad must be closely linked to the advertised product, such as GEICO’s gecko commercials.”
“We know that there are areas of the brain that are more active when you experience emotion, and these same areas of the brain appear to be active when someone perceives humor,” Dr. Carlson said. “Subjective ratings of humor also are related to the level of brain activity in these areas, which suggests a possible link between humor and emotion.

“The work of other scientists has shown that the brain is making some pretty sophisticated distinctions between humorous and non-humorous materials right at the moment when it experiences humor. It doesn’t seem to make sense for the brain to have these patterns of activity if there were no link between emotion and the memory advantage for humor.”



About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory  speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life.



Valparaiso University – Humor a boost to memory: