Memory Retention During Violent and Humorous Viewing

Research was conducted at Pacific Union College to find out if memory retention was increased or decreased during the viewing of violent and humorous programming. Their results were quite surprising!

They first set out to prove that those who watched violent television shows would have a more difficult time recalling commercials during the show, and details of them, while they believed those who watched comedy would have an easier ability to recall the products when presented during the show. They based their theory on the fact that people tend to recall things better when it is presented to them with humor.

One hundred ten college students took part in the study. In the violent viewing students watched the television show 24, which contained 72 instances of violence and no instances of humor. The students in the humorous section watched Will and Grace, which contained 106 instances of humor and no instances of violence. Students in the control group watched a travel video that contained no violence or humor. Each group was asked to view the same eight 30-second advertisements.

This was found in the study:

  • Humorous ads were recalled and better recognized than non-humorous advertisements
  • Those who viewed funny shows were able to recall commercials better than those who viewed news programs
  • Recall of DETAILS in a commercial were better after a news program, but those who watched a humorous show were able to recall more information the next day than those who watched the news.
  • Participants watching a violent show recalled advertisements during the show significantly better during the most violent portion of the show, compared to the least violent portion
  • Participants watching a humorous show were less likely to recall details during the most humorous portion of the show compared to the least likely.
  • §Students in the violent section have lower immediate recall than those in the control group.
  • The next day’s recall was lower in the violent sector than in the humorous sector
  • Recall the next day was better in the group viewing the humorous programs, followed by those who viewed the travel video, and then the violent show.

Overall, the results indicate that recall is best when presented in a non-violent context, although in extremely violent segments it is especially heightened as well. This would indicate that a wise advertiser would place their commercials as close to the most violent segment of the show as possible, and as far away from the least violent segment. For those advertising on a comedy show, ads should be placed at the least humorous segment and as far away from the highest level of humor as possible.

The conclusion could then be drawn that your ability to memorize and recall is better when you are in a heightened state of emotion.   Take for example the tragedy of September 11, 2001. If you ask anyone they will tell you they know exactly where they were and whom they were with as they watched the twin towers collapse. They were in a heightened state of emotion and they were absorbing every detail.

I have always found it easy to remember something when it is presented in a humorous way as opposed to a negative way, but from this study it doesn’t seem to matter if the emotion is good or bad, simply that it is much more intense.

From the desk of Ron White

Memory Training


Pacific Union College — Humor, Violence and Memory, Effects of Television Content on Recall:

Science Daily – Television Violence Can Impair Memory For Commercial Messages, Says New Research:

You May Also Like