A recent study, conducted by Pacific Union College, tried to compare the effects of both violence and humor in television and how people are able to recall the product names in commercials throughout the show. We have always known that if you want to improve your memory with memory training you should make the images funny with tons of emotion.

Researchers first theorized that participants would be less likely to recall advertised product names if they watched violent shows as opposed to those containing humor. Their conclusion was surprising. They found that recall was heightened during the most violent and the least humorous portions of a show as opposed to when they were viewing the least violent and most humorous.

The conclusion could then be drawn that your ability to memorize and recall is better when you are in a heightened state of emotion.  Take for example the tragedy of September 11, 2001. If you ask anyone they will tell you they know exactly where they were and whom they were with as they watched the twin towers collapse. They were in a heightened state of emotion and they were absorbing every detail. When I am in a memory tournament or even trying to remember numbers on a stage for a group, the images that are full of emotion and vivid I will recall with my memory training system and the ones that aren’t….well…I won’t

One hundred ten college students took part in the study. In the violent viewing students watched the television show 24, which contained 72 instances of violence and no instances of humor. The students in the humorous section watched Will and Grace, which contained 106 instances of humor and no instances of violence. Students in the control group watched a travel video that contained no violence or humor. Each group was asked to view the same eight 30-second advertisements.

Results from their study include:

  • Humorous ads were recalled and better recognized than non-humorous advertisements
  • Those who viewed funny shows were able to recall commercials better than those who viewed news programs
  • Recall of DETAILS in a commercial were better after a news program, but those who watched a humorous show were able to recall more information the next day than those who watched the news.
  • Participants watching a violent show recalled advertisements during the show significantly better during the most violent portion of the show, compared to the least violent portion
  • Participants watching a humorous show were less likely to recall details during the most humorous portion of the show compared to the least likely.
  • Students in the violent section have lower immediate recall than those in the control group.
  • The next day’s recall was lower in the violent sector than in the humorous sector.
  • Recall the next day was better in the group viewing the humorous programs, followed by those who viewed the travel video, and then the violent show.

Overall, the results indicate that recall is best when presented in a non-violent context, although in extremely violent segments it is especially heightened as well. This would indicate that a wise advertiser would place their commercials as close to the most violent segment of the show as possible, and as far away from the least violent segment. For those advertising on a comedy show, ads should be placed at the least humorous segment and as far away from the highest level of humor as possible. I guess advertisers are interested in some form of improving your memory.

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion , memory training expert, and memory keynote speaker. I found this information fascinating. I have always believed it is easier to remember something when it is presented in a humorous way as opposed to a negative way, but from this study it doesn’t seem to matter if the emotion is good or bad, simply that it is much more intense.




Pacific Union College – Humor, Violence and Memory, Effects of Television Content on Recall: http://www.puc.edu/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/29883/humor-violence-and-memory-tv-recall.pdf

Science Daily – Television Violence Can Impair Memory For Commercial Messages, Says New Research: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/12/981202074804.htm