Nav: Home

Funny bone: ASU survey finds 99 percent of science students appreciate instructor humor

August 15, 2018

There's nothing like a good laugh to lighten a mood, especially when the atmosphere is serious -- like it can be in a science classroom.

Using humor in the classroom has been shown to positively impact student learning, but what if an instructor simply isn't funny? Or what effect does it have on students if a teacher tells an offensive joke?

In a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from Arizona State University found that students appreciate when instructors tell jokes in science class, but that female and male students differ in what topics they find funny or offensive.

Researchers from the School of Life Sciences surveyed students from 25 college science courses about their perceptions of instructor humor. Of the 1,637 respondents, 99 percent say they appreciate instructor humor and believe it improves the classroom experience. Many students also say humor decreases stress, enhances the relationship between students and instructor, and helps them remember what is taught in class.

Researchers were fascinated by the high number of students who valued humor.

"I went into [this study] thinking that maybe we shouldn't be joking in the classroom, but I left the study thinking that instructors should use humor as a way to better connect with students," said Sara Brownell, associate professor in the school and senior author of the paper. "But, as might seem obvious, we need to be careful with what we're joking about because we found the topics that instructors are joking about can have different effects on different students."

What if a science instructor tells a joke that's not funny?

The study found that even if teachers tell jokes that fall flat - jokes that students don't find funny - it did not change the students' attention to course content or their relationship with the instructor.

However, if a teacher tells a joke that is offensive and unfunny, more than 40 percent of students say it decreases their ability to pay attention to course content and negatively affects whether an instructor is seen as relatable. Although this can hurt all students, it may have a larger impact on women.

This study found that men and women in science classrooms differed on what topics they thought were funny or offensive. In the survey, science students were presented with hypothetical topics professors could joke about. Male students were more likely to find hypothetical jokes told by the instructor about gender, sexual orientation, religious identity and race funny, while women were more likely to find these same hypotheticals offensive. However, both men and women find three topics to be funny and not offensive: science, college and television.

"More and more studies are starting to paint a picture that the classroom environment is really important for student learning," said Brownell. "Science classrooms and the instructors teaching the science are typically described by students as boring, unapproachable and difficult. So, science instructors who try to be funny can create better learning environments, as long as they are not offensive."

What does this mean for instructors?

"They need to think twice about the type of humor they use," said Katelyn Cooper, lead author and postdoctoral researcher in Brownell's lab. "Is it a joke about cute animals? Probably OK. A pun about science? Probably OK."

Student researchers

One unusual aspect of this study is that it was carried out by 16 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a class that focused on biology education research. Advertised as a project-based course, the entire class worked on the research project during one semester. The students worked as investigators on the project -- formulating the initial research idea, collecting and analyzing data, and editing the final manuscript.

Taija Hendrix, an undergraduate student researcher at the time of the study, said by taking the course, she was able to see the entire process of research from the very beginning. Hendrix said the possibility of being published was exciting.

"This class brought together students from all across the School of Life Sciences, some of whom I probably wouldn't have worked with, but in this course, we were all able to work together towards a common goal," said Hendrix. "The instructors told us they wanted our research to be published. For me, this idea was incredible that something I did would be read not only by other students, but scientists. The idea of contributing to the scientific literature before officially being a scientist myself wasn't something I thought I would have the privilege to do. Because of this course I was able to."Hendrix graduated in May of 2018 with her bachelor's in biological sciences. She is now teaching high school science classes in Avondale, Arizona, and plans on using plenty of humor to help

Arizona State University

Related Humor Articles:

Penn Medicine uses social media-style memes and gifs to encourage staff recognition
A study found that the Penn 'High Five' system is used by the vast majority of the team where it was first launched.
Eye on research: A new way to detect and study retinoblastoma
Dr. Jesse Berry of Children's Hospital Los Angeles advances the field of retinoblastoma research through her discovery and use of aqueous humor biopsy.
Flagging false Facebook posts as satire helps reduce belief
If you want to convince people not to trust an inaccurate political post on Facebook, labeling it as satire can help, a new study finds.
The Mathematikado: A math-inspired parody of a parody
In 1886, female students at Vassar College put on a parody of the opera 'The Mikado' by Gilbert and Sullivan.
As married couples age, humor replaces bickering
Honeymoon long over? Hang in there. A new University of California, Berkeley, study shows those prickly disagreements that can mark the early and middle years of marriage mellow with age as conflicts give way to humor and acceptance.
Can chiropractic care disrupt vision?
For those in the habit of getting their neck adjusted by a chiropractor, there's an interesting case from Kellogg Eye Center to know about: High velocity neck manipulation has been shown to create stress on the eye and lead to spotty vision.
Funny bone: ASU survey finds 99 percent of science students appreciate instructor humor
In a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from Arizona State University found that students appreciate when instructors tell jokes in science class, but that female and male students differ in what topics they find funny or offensive.
No laughing matter, yet humor inspires climate change activism
Melting icecaps, mass flooding, megadroughts and erratic weather are no laughing matter.
New directions found in understanding, fighting glaucoma
Two distinctive handfuls of short molecules that regulate gene expression have been found in the eye fluid of patients with two distinct types of vision degenerating glaucoma.
Self-defeating humor promotes psychological well-being, study reveals
Researchers from the University of Granada provide new data on the consequences of using different styles of humor, emphasizing the importance of analyzing cultural differences in future psychological research.
More Humor News and Humor Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.