You Get More Flies with Honey…and Jokes

by Amanda Houpt, Senior Trainer


My partner and I recently completed a cross-country move. We drove 4,500 miles in his 1998 Toyota Corolla, crashing on friends’ couches and camping in countless state and national parks. We opted to ship my car while we made the journey, and once it arrived, my landlord gave me a ride to retrieve it. Although we’d met and spoken a few times before, it took the 10-minute drive for her to realize I was funny.

I didn’t mean to be funny. All I did was explain how I happened to be collecting my car at a Costco parking lot. I couldn’t help that the story involved an eccentric retired submariner, a trucker named Harold, a $1000 parking ticket, and a poodle called Rustie. I also couldn’t help that they all had Boston accents. I just wanted her to understand why I needed the ride. However, the fact that I was funny took her completely by surprise because I do what she thinks of as serious work.

People have made this assumption for my entire career in public health, thinking that a choice to focus on violence prevention would render me stern or humorless. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. What you must understand is that I am serious about preventing harm. I wake up each morning and shoot out of bed like a rocket with the singular mission of preventing others from getting hurt. I just believe that humor is an essential tool to my mission.

Fortunately, Alteristic shares my point of view. Any of you who have attended a Green Dot training know that a sense of humor is one of our gifts. However, what you may not realize is that even our humor is research-informed.

Scientists have been studying the use of humor in the classroom for almost forty years. What they have found is that humor has psychological, social and cognitive benefits. When teachers use humor in their classrooms, students perceive them as being more likeable and more approachable. Moreover, using humor reduces anxiety and facilitates learning by capturing students’ interests and increasing their motivation to learn (Lei, Cohen, Russler, 2010).

This is important, because tackling complex social issues requires that a critical mass of people get involved. We are in the position of what Robert Cialdini calls “getting things done through others.” To successfully do that, we have to motivate groups of unique individuals to join us by using the power of persuasion. Cialdini, who has spent most of his career studying the science of persuasion, has found that likeability is an essential tool in convincing others to act. When people like us, they are more likely to do what we ask.

So here is what we know: Humor increases likeability. Likeability, in turn, persuades people to act. Presented that way, the choice to incorporate humor into prevention programming seems obvious. If that strikes you as somewhat reductive, stay tuned. My next blog will explore the science of humor and persuasion in greater depth.



Lei, S. A., Cohen, J. L., & Russler, K. M. (2010). Humor on learning in the college classroom: Evaluating benefits and drawbacks from instructors’ perspectives. Journal of Instructional Psychology37(4), 326-332.

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Harnessing the science of persuasion. Harvard Business Review79(9), 72-81.

Recent Posts