Watching funny cat videos at work may be good for you… hmmmmmm new research suggests exposure to humorous stimuli may actually help people persevere in completing arduous tasks.
“There has beena new study, by psychological scientists David Cheng and Lu Wang of the University of New South Wales indicating that humor may have a functional impact on important behaviors in the workplace – exposure to funny videos can encourage people to spend twice as long on a tedious task as compared to people who watched not funny videos”
Research found that humor can facilitate recovery from stressful situations, and provide a kind of “momentary vacation.”
In the business world, many successful organizations such as Zappos, Virgin, and Google, deliberately build play areas into their workspaces and organize fun events with the intent that the humor arising from these events alleviates stress, boosts morale, and increases productivity.
In a 2007 article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Roy Baumeister (Florida State University) and colleagues point to humor as one factor that can ” moderate or counteract the effects of mental depletion.”
Cheng and Wang hypothesized that humor provided a respite from stressful situations. This “mental break” might not only prevent work-related depletion, but may also facilitate replenishment of mental stamina allowing people to persist longer on difficult tasks.
To test this theory, the researchers studied 74 students in the lab, ostensibly for an experiment on perception. First, the students performed a mentally-depleting task in which they had to cross out every the letter “e” contained in two pages of text. Students were then randomly assigned to watch a video clip eliciting either humor, contentment, or neutral emotions.
For the humorous video, students watched a clip of the BBC comedy “Mr. Bean.” In the content condition, participants watched a scene with dolphins swimming in the ocean. The students in the neutral condition were treated to an 8-minute video about the management profession designed for students studying business.
Immediately after watching the videos, participants reported their emotions using a standard 7-point scale of 16 discrete emotions (e.g., amusement, anger, disgust).
Students then completed a persistence task, in which they played an unwinnable game. The students were asked to guess the potential performance of employees based on provided profiles. They were told that making 10 correct assessments in a row would lead to a win. However, the computer software was programmed so it was impossible to achieve 10 consecutive correct answers. Participants were allowed to quit at any time.
As predicted, students who watched the humorous clip of “Mr. Bean” spent significantly more time on the task, and made twice as many predictions, than the other two groups.
Humor’s positive effect on persistence was driven, at least in part, by the emotion of amusement. Therefore, people who reported high levels of amusement after watching the humorous video clip were more likely to show increased persistence.
The traditional view of “task performance” implies that individuals must CONCENTRATE all efforts on their task and avoid humor and distractions from the accomplishment of task goals,- these studies prove differently.
Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(6), 351-355. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00534.x
Cheng, D., & Wang, L. (2014). Examining the Energizing Effects of Humor: The Influence of Humor on Persistence Behavior. Journal of Business and Psychology, 1-14. doi: 10.1007/s10869-014-9396-z