Jokes and memorization

For many people, humor is a serious matter. When used with proper care humor can release tension, improve productivity, generate long-term memories, and make us enjoy stepping out of our comfort zone. April’s fool day is a great day to write a serious article about humor, and I am not going to miss this opportunity. This resource, this and this articles helped me today, and some unconnected article you may enjoy are here, here and here.

The power of a smile

A smile has magical powers. We smile when we feel good. If we feel neutral and force a smile, it will actually make us feel good. Smiling people appear more attractive and charismatic. When we smile we get less tired. Neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when you smile and the level of stress-related cortisol is reduced.

Laughing is closely associated with smiling. When we laugh our lungs expand and our brains get oxygen. Pumping the brain with oxygen could be a natural response to confusion: increase the brainpower and see what happens. While smiling is universally attractive, loud laughing may or may not be accepted based on a social situation. Laughter is a social response among humans, signaling it is safe to bond now. Laughter can bring friends closer, instantly releasing social tensions.

Meditating people occasionally experience uncontrollable laughter. Occasionally, the state of utter confusion may cause momentary enlightenment. This effect is often used in zen training. We believe that the confusion momentarily subdues the audio loops related to self and enables more visual and selfless thinking. The experience is of extreme joy and clarity.

The science of funny

Science shows that “funny” is associated with confusion. In information theory, the level of confusion is measured by entropy. Funny texts have measurably higher entropy than average texts. Funny situations include things we rarely see in the same context or taken to their extreme. Taking things to the extreme and increasing the level of confusion will not automatically generate funny content. There are deeper issues involved. Humor deals a lot with shifting expectations.

A good joke shifts our brain from information processing to emotional response, and then activates the reward centers in our brain, which makes us feel good.
I quote from one of the resources I listed:

First, the listener encounters some type of incongruity: a punch line that seems out of place compared with the joke’s set-up. Then, following a cognitive construct called surprise and coherence, the listener tries to resolve this incongruity. Finally, the listener’s brain determines the joke’s sense—or lack thereof—and decides whether or not the joke is funny

If you do not “get” jokes, probably you need to improve your visualization skills. Jokes are processed by the same brain areas that deal with information from senses. Depression often reduces our ability not only to laugh but also to process new information and form stable memories. If you are depressed, learning may be a bad idea, physical activity or meditation may be more suitable.

Humor is used in medicine. Humor can boost our immune system and enable us to deal with diseases more effectively, and live longer. This largely hormonal effect should be enough to make you learn how to smile more often.

Humans are not the only animals capable of humor. Other primates laugh in some similar situations, rats giggle.

Unforgettably funny

Quite often funny situations are unforgettable. Humor is one of the tools we use to generate mnemonics for long-term memorization. When visualizing, we often create funny scenes so we can recreate them easier.

When we learn to recognize humor we also learn to recognize patterns. Creating funny scenes, we reuse these patterns in a way similar to the patterns we use creating logical connections. The big difference: funny templates may connect seemingly unconnected things.

Funny things tend to be unique. Generic ideas will probably not be funny. The uniqueness of the experience definitely contributes to our memorization abilities.

Other people cannot remember jokes, simply because they do not fit into their familiar patterns and appear too complex to be remembered. Do not despair, you can use really shallow humor with similar benefits, you do not even have to use humor if you want to remember.

Self humor

Out of our comfort zone, we feel vulnerable. We make mistakes and embarrass ourselves. Our expectations shift quickly since we do not know how to anchor them.

Self-reflexive humor enables us with powerful tools to deal with strange and stressful situations. Instead of panicking, we may look at ourselves from a different perspective and experience a burst of genuine laughter. This will lower our stress and allow us to deal with the situation in a more thoughtful way.

People often use self-referential humor as a part of storytelling, to generate empathy and positive emotional response from the audience. The storyteller would typically emphasize the absurd in the situation. The fourth wall is a performance convention in which an invisible, imagined wall separates actors from the audience. Self-referential humor often breaks this invisible wall.

Stereotypes and professional jokes

Stereotypes build our automatic responses to deal with certain situations and separate the group to which we belong from others. Stereotypes offer a set of readily available templates for funny situations. We can embrace them to create funny content for our visualizations, yet we should remember that stereotypes and generalizations can be erroneous and do not apply to each particular case.

Some humor will be funny only for the people of a specific profession. When we try to remember professional information and behavioral patterns, we can easily accept them through the prism of humor.

Good leaders use jokes. A well-placed professional joke may be a strong rhetoric tool, conveying your point of view much better than direct argument. An argument typically is processed by audio and logical loops, a joke generates a direct visual and emotional response. It passes through our filters and influences us in a deeper more personal tone.
Paradigm changes in science are often accompanied by jokes since they show the situation as-is without the complex layers of rationalization.


Humor makes us bond, improves our health and boosts our memory. There is actually a science of funny, and you can use it for your benefit.

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2 Replies to “Jokes and memorization”

  1. Good point. I used to be too “serious” in many aspects of my life. On long term, it seems that humor has more positive impact for learning.

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