Mixing humor with the news makes young adults more likely to remember it

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — For decades, Americans heard the news in one way on television. Respected newsmen like Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw delivered the day’s major events in a stern and dignified manner. Now, news channels are everywhere on television and a new study finds young adults need a little comedy sprinkled in for it to stick. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania say young people remember more about what they hear on the news when it’s mixed with humor.

Study authors add comedy-news programs, made famous by comedians like Jon Stewart and John Oliver, cause younger viewers to share what they see and hear more than traditional programs. Their report even reveals that viewers have more activity in their brains when they watch comedic news shows.

“For democracy to work, it is really important for people to engage with news and politics and to be informed about public affairs,” says senior author Emily Falk from the Annenberg School for Communication in a university release. “We wanted to test whether humor might make news more socially relevant, and therefore motivate people to remember it and share it.”

More laughs equal more memorable news

The study gathered a group of 18 to 34 year-olds to watch a collection of news clips; some which ended with jokes while others did not. The team also conducted fMRI brain scans on each participant and gave them a memory test after watching the news clips. Finally, researchers asked young adults how likely they were to share the news they saw with friends.

The results reveal participants remember more about politics and government when they hear the news in a humorous manner. They are also more likely to share comedic clips with others rather than more straight-forward reporting.

Additionally, the MRI images show that young adults experience greater levels of activity in their brains. Study authors say the regions overseeing how people think about what others think and feel are most active while seeing humorous news; highlighting the social aspects of comedy.

“Our findings show that humor stimulates activity in brain regions associated with social engagement, improves memory for political facts, and increases the tendency to share political information with others,” says lead author Jason Coronel from the Ohio State University. “This is significant because entertainment-based media has become an important source of political news, especially for young adults. Our results suggest that humor can increase knowledge about politics.”

The study appears in the Journal of Communication.