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Journalism with humor is the most memorable

How best to convey the news? A touch of the light-hearted can help the message sink and lead to wider social media coverage.

A television reporter from CN8 speaking into a microphone in front of a camera. Photo: Jonut (CC BY 2.0)
A television reporter from CN8 speaking into a microphone in front of a camera. Photo: Jonut (CC BY 2.0)

A new study finds that news, with a tinge of amusement, is more likely to remain in the public consciousness than news delivered in a dry, perhaps more factual way.

So, here goes:

A friend lost his job as a journalist at a classic rock magazine through musical differences. He was always giving rave reviews.

Not funny? It was a try.

The research was a psychological study, one that sought to see if the merging of humor and news could help inform the public. The outcome was that younger people appeared far more likely to recall information about subjects like politics and government policy provided the information was conveyed in a humorous rather than non-humorous manner.

The inclusion of something amusing with the message also affected social media sharing, with the inclusion of humor leading to people being more willing to share the new item online.

Such research may appear trivial at first, but for a democracy to function effectively it is important that citizens listen to, understand, and engage with the major events that are taking place.

With the research, young adults (18-34 years old) were asked to watch a variety of news clips. The news items varied, and some concluded with jokes. As the news items were watched, the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania collected data on each person’s brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology (the extent of brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow).

This was followed by a memory test to assess how much information participants retained from watching the clips. In addition, the researchers asked participants to answer questions about how likely they would be to share the news clips with others.

It was discovered that the study participants were far more likely to remember information about politics and government policy when it was conveyed in a humorous rather than non-humorous manner.

Why is this? The findings pinpointed that humorous news clips elicit higher activity in brain regions associated with thinking and feeling. This not only highlights the social nature of comedy, it also provides further clues for the understanding of memory processes.

The research appears in the Journal of Communication, with the study titled “Political Humor, Sharing, and Remembering: Insights from Neuroimaging.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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