You have to admire scholars willing to look at 40 years of research on any topic, and this particular review is useful to faculty interested in understanding the role of humor in education. It starts with definitions, functions, and theories of humor. It identifies a wide range of different types of humor. It reviews empirical findings, including the all-important question of whether using humor helps students learn. And finally, this 30-page review concludes with concrete advice and suggestions for future research. It’s one of those articles that belong in even modest instructional libraries—imagine having to track down the better-than-100 references in the bibliography.

Humor in educational settings serves a variety of positive functions beyond simply making people laugh. Humor builds group (as in class) cohesion. People respond more positively to each other when humor is present. It brings them together. Humor can facilitate cohesion by softening criticism. Research also establishes that humor helps individuals cope with stress. It relaxes them. But not all the functions of humor are positive. If humor is used divisively or to disparage others, it weakens group cohesion. Humor has negative impacts when it is used as a means of control. For example, given the power dynamic in the classroom, it is highly inappropriate for instructors to target students by making fun of their ignorance or beliefs.

There are many different types of humor that have been identified and explored in research. Among those listed in a comprehensive table in the article are humor related to class material, funny stories (hopefully related to the content), humorous comments, self-disparaging humor, unplanned humor (spontaneous, unintentional), jokes, riddles, puns, funny props, and visual illustrations. Humor related to course material, funny stories, and humorous comments are almost always appropriate. Other kinds of humor are appropriate depending on the context. And some kinds of humor are never appropriate, such humor that … Read More