Understanding Humor

This intervention can be useful for children and adults and requires no additional cost.

Intervention Overview

As educators, it can be helpful to understand humor and its benefits to maximize its effect in our lives. The Benign Violation Theory categorizes humor as something that is simultaneously harmless, but a violation of our beliefs or expectations. This ‘sweet spot’ is different for all of us depending on how we perceive the situation (Humor Research Team, 2015, n.p.). To become better at humor, Andrew Tarvin (2017), a comedian and consultant, suggests that we start by sharing our point of view. Understanding that humor is a skill, helps us see that the more we attend to it and learn from our mistakes, the better we can become. Specifically in the classroom, Elias (2015) suggests that teachers can set up a joke Friday, laugh at themselves more often, and share memes and jokes.

For humor to be most effective and appreciated by students, teachers are encouraged to use humor that is appropriate and/or relates to the content or point of the lesson (Edwards and Gibboney, 1992, 22-23). There are four main types of humor that are considered appropriate:

Humor is important to learning because it reduces students’  anxiety levels and helps them feel more comfortable in the classroom. Not only does humor reduce symptoms of emotional distress, but it also promotes positive emotions. Studies have found that the use of humor in the classroom increases self-esteem, alertness and creativity (Lujan & DiCarlo, 2016; Savage et al., 2017).             


Edwards, C.M. & Gibboney, E.R. (1992). The power of humor in the college classroom.  ERIC Document ED 346535. 

Elias, M.J. (2015, March 30). Using humor in the classroom. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/using-humor-in-the-classroom-maurice-elias 

Humor Research Team. (n.d.) Benign violation theory. Humor Research Lab: University of Colorado Boulder. https://humorresearchlab.com/benign-violation-theory/

Jonas, P.M. (2010). Laughter and learning: An alternative to shut up and listen. Rowman & Littlefield Education. 

Luhan, H.L. & DiCarlo, S.E. (2016). Humor promotes learning! Advance in Physiology Education, 40(4), 433-434. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00123.2016

Savage, B.M., Lujan, H.L., Thipparthi, R.R. & DiCarlo, S.E. (2017). Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review. Advances in Physiology Education, 41(3), 341-347. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00030.2017

Tarvin, A. (2017, September). The skill of humor [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdZAMSyn_As 

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Access it online or download it at https://open.byu.edu/addressing_wellbeing/understanding_humor.