News broadcast with humour better received by audience, study shows

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  • Humorous news shows have become increasingly popular over the last two decades
  • Young people are especially keen on watching such shows
  • Researchers have shown that these shows help people to remember and share political news

Satirical news programmes have become a trend over the past few years, with one of South Africa’s award-winning comedians being the host of such a TV show.

The previous norm of televised news involved seeing serious reporters delivering hard news to the public, but comedic news-orientated programmes have rapidly become strong competition for traditional news programmes.

A study conducted by researchers from Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the School of Communication at Ohio State University aimed to examine whether humour had an effect on the desire of people to want to share political news, as well as if it affected their capacity it to remember. 

"For democracy to work, it is really important for people to engage with news and politics and to be informed about public affairs," senior author, Emily Falk, stated.

"We wanted to test whether humour might make news more socially relevant, and therefore motivate people to remember it and share it."

Neuroimaging shows how humour helps people remember

The researchers collected data on the brain activity of young adults (between 18 and 34 years old) who watched a range of news clips – some with jokes and others without.

They used fMRI technology to assess how much information the participants retained after watching the clips and also asked them questions about how likely they were to share the news clips with others.

Humour can increase political knowledge

The results of the study indicate that participants were more likely to remember information related to politics that is communicated in a humorous way compared to when jokes were absent. 

“Our findings show that humour 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.

He went on to say that such studies are significant because of the popularity of entertainment-based news programmes among younger people. “Our results suggest that humour can increase knowledge about politics,” Coronel concluded.

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