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Neuroscience

Student’s research suggests a chuckle won’t enhance the audience’s recall of a speech

Mario Baldassari ’11 publishes findings from his senior thesis exploring memory for humor in the Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research.

The study tested the old adage that starting a speech with a joke will make the speech the more memorable. Baldassari, who conducted the research during his senior year at Lake Forest College, found that although humor enhanced memory for the jokes themselves, memory for the speeches was unaffected by the presence of humor.

For the study, Baldassari first pilot tested a series of limericks to determine their humor value. He then had students listen to two short speeches that either began (or ended) with a limerick (funny or unfunny). He found that the audience members recalled the funny limericks better than both the unfunny limericks and the speeches.

Baldassari concluded that the presence of a joke made no difference to a person’s memory of the speech. “I would say starting a speech with a joke is fine, as long as it is directly linked in content to the rest of the speech,” explained Baldassari. “This way, folks remember something of value rather than the content of an unrelated joke.”

The experience of conducting the study while an undergraduate helped prepare him, Baldassari said. “Conducting a full study from beginning to end was a great chance for me to dip my toe in the water of grad school while still at Lake Forest. Getting the chance to have it published is an incredible cherry on top.”

Baldassari is pursuing a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at the University of Victoria. Primarily, he is studying the psychology of eyewitness identification, including the confidence of crime investigators, eye movements of eyewitnesses, and individual differences in eyewitness performance.

According to Associate Professor Matthew Kelley, “Mario has joined an impressive group of psychology majors who recently have published articles based on their theses, including Brittany Goldman ’09, Joanna Bovee ’06, Melissa Lehman ’05, and James Chambers ’05.”