The power of humour

The power of humour

When educational content is funny, it sticks.

Research shows that learning while having fun is the perfect recipe for memorability. Humour triggers the formation of habits, meaning that children want to play again and again, learning more and more words every time. 

The role of humour in knowledge retention

Research shows that humour is the perfect vehicle for memorability.[1] There are two main reasons behind this: 

Psychological reasons

  • Humour is a two-phase process containing a surprising element which needs to first be recognised and then be reinterpreted by the receiver of the joke.
  • The extra processing effort to capture the inconsistency and reanalyse it allows for the content to be elaborated on more, thus engraving it in long-term memory more easily -- this explanation was confirmed by various experiments.[2],[3],[4] 

Neuroscientific reasons

  • Humour activates the brain’s dopamine reward system; this pleasure chemical is crucial both for motivation and long-term memory.[5]
  • Dopamine is also a key factor for habit formation in that something that makes us feel good will trigger the desire to do it again. So not only does humour make children learn, it makes them want to learn. 

There’s a reason why everything we make at Mrs Wordsmith is hilariously illustrated and outrageously silly. Explore our range of resources that make kids laugh as they learn.


  1. 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), 115-144.
  2. Schmidt, S., Williams, A. (2001). Memory for humorous cartoons. Memory & Cognition, 29(2), 305-311.
  3. Schmidt, S. (2002) The humour effect: Differential processing and privileged retrieval. Memory, 10(2), 127-138.
  4. Wanzer, M., Frymier, A. & Irwin, J. (2010) An Explanation of the Relationship between Instructor Humor and Student Learning: Instructional Humor Processing Theory. Communication Education, 59(1).
  5. Wise, R. (2004) Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5, 483-494.