science humorIf you’ve ever talked to ALEX, you know that besides being super-smart when it comes to benefits, he also has a pretty good sense of humor.

And while it’s true that we, like you, enjoy smiling, and get a kick out of trying to make employees all over the country smile, we don’t put humor into ALEX just because we enjoy making employees feel a little happier and a little less stressed out—though that certainly is part of it.

No, the main reason we incorporate humor into our ALEX conversations is that over and over again, humor has been scientifically proven to

1) keep people more engaged;

2) improve people’s comprehension of complex information; and

3) help people retain more information, longer.

In other words, we use humor to talk about confusing benefits stuff because using humor gets amazing results.

Below, I’ve listed synopses of and links to three scientific studies and one article that demonstrate, in quantifiable terms, humor’s effectiveness as an educational tool, as well as an A/B test we conducted about the effectiveness of humor in ALEX and some representative employee comments about how the humor in ALEX helped them learn.


1. ‘Humor in Pedagogy: How Ha-Ha can Lead to Aha!’

In this 2006 study, Garner showed 94 undergraduate students three one-hour statistics lectures presented as video recordings. One group was presented the standard, humor-free, lectures and the other group was shown the standard lectures with humor or jokes inserted throughout. Garner found that the humor group had a ‘more enjoyable educational experience’ and ‘significantly recalled and retained more information,’ with a mean recall score of 88.43 compared to the control group’s mean recall score of 77.27 (p.179). Garner summarizes that the use of humor in the classroom can ‘enhance the learning environment’ and have a ‘significantly positive impact on retention of educational materials’ (p.179).

2. ‘How Laughing Leads to Learning’

This widely-cited article by Zak Stambor summarizes various research studies that explore the positive psychological and physiological benefits of integrating humor into student education in a tactical way.

3. ‘Taking the ‘Distance’ out of Distance Education’

In this 2011 article, Donna Gayle Anderson investigates the impact of humor on student engagement. For her study, Anderson divided the 129 undergraduate students in her online business class into two groups: one group experienced the course with humor added, the other without. Anderson quantified engagement as the number of quality posts each student published to the online discussion boards. From this experiment, Anderson found a statistically significant difference between the mean score of the number of discussion posts published by the humor group (69.04) compared to the non-humor group (49.98). She concludes that humor ‘aids in creating a positive learning environment,’ and helps in ‘motivating more students to engage more.’

4. ‘Statistics? You Must be Joking: The Application and Evaluation of Humor when Teaching Statistics

David L. Neumann conducted a qualitative study to evaluate the effects of humor on his introductory statistics course.  For his experiment, Neumann conducted in-depth interviews with a random sample of 38 students from his class to determine their reactions to the use of humor during the course. He coded the students’ responses, analyzed the results, and found that the majority of students (68%) indicated that humor positively influenced them, both in terms of affect–’amusement, lightening mood, motivation’–and cognition–‘learning, attention, mental break, reducing monotony, and breaking up content.’

5. The ALEX Observational Research Test on Humor

We pulled two groups of user response data for the question ‘How helpful was this medical section for you?’ One group consisted of users who experienced the standard version of ALEX v7 Medical (all jokes included) and the second group included users who experienced a customized version of ALEX (with some of the jokes removed).

We found that users in the group with jokes found ALEX helpful 4% more than the users in the group with some jokes removed. This is a statistically significant difference.

6. A few of the nice things employees have said about the usefulness of ALEX’s humor

‘Information was very helpful and Alex was very funny. It definitely kept my attention.’
‘I appreciate the humor added in to make a stressful choice less stressful.’
‘Love the humor, much needed through a potentially confusing subject.’
‘I loved this step by step walk through. And Alex is funny as well — makes you want to listen to him.’
‘This was an enjoyable presentation. Very informative and the humor helped make the points “stick”.”

Want to learn more about how humor–used the right way–can improve the benefits communications where YOU work?

Download our eBook, Your Employees Are Going to Laugh at You: Five Thoughts on Using Humor in Benefits Communication

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