Humor Is Contagious (Explained)

Having something contagious usually is thought as a negative, and the idea is that you don’t want to spread it. However, there is also the concept that humor is contagious. If this is the case, then perhaps it’s not so bad to share. So how is humor contagious and what does that mean for parents, grandparents, and teachers?

Humor is contagious in that our behavior influences others. This is backed by research, and also our personal experiences in some way or another. As parents, grandparents, and teachers we are able to teach and share humor with the kids in our lives, so it’s vital to make it positive.

As a teacher for decades and mom of four, I’ve learned about the power of using humor with children. It’s certainly what’s gotten me through tough days at home and school.

One way to build humor with your kids is to use it strategically through routines or regular activities. For instance, our Fun Jokes For Kids Coloring Book is a great tool for embedding humor through kid-friendly activity.

I’m happy to elaborate about how humor is contagious; what exactly is a sense of humor or humor in general; and how to use contagious humor effectively especially with kids.

What does it mean if your sense of humor is contagious?

Vanessa Van Edwards (an interpersonal intelligence expert and public speaker with features from Men’s Health, Forbes, and Fox News) has given Ted Talks explaining that even our behavior is contagious.

Let’s first look at what’s meant by sense of humor, and then what is meant by your sense of humor is contagious.

If your sense of humor is contagious, it means others around you not only enjoy your type of humor, but that they start to mimic and share the same kind of humor. For instance, if you use dark humor, others begin to do so too. Generally it’s meant as a compliment, but it’s not always the case.

An example we’re probably all familiar with is when your teenager (or child of any age) starts acting like his friends, in the most negative way, that is. (We rarely see, or at least complain about, when they copy their friends in the positive way.) So it’s the same way with humor.

When children copy each other, it’s called ‘Imitation.’

California Department of Education

This is particularly common with sarcasm in kids. Many kids today are prone to using sarcastic rebuttals and ‘darker’ type humor and they do this because it’s what they see and hear on their entertainment.

I was recently watching a Scooby Doo episode in which Velma snarkily tells her parents to “reboot, Parentals” when she thought they were overreacting. I can almost guarantee that that line came out of many tweens’ mouths in real life soon after!

Even classic shows like Scooby Doo have been rebooted into newer episodes with dark, sarcastic humor attached.

And Scooby Doo is not an anomaly. Whether it’s SpongeBob SquarePants or Peppa Pig (Amazon linked), you’ll find sarcasm embedded in almost all kids’ cartoons today.

For more Fun Jokes articles like this one, I suggest reading these:

Why Is Humor Contagious?

What is it about humor specifically that makes it contagious?

Humor is contagious because it’s interactive. Research has shown that humor engages others, thereby establishing a connection and building relationships. It’s not just one-way, either, making it more effective and powerful since it produces stimuli and evokes a response that can be shared.

Let’s look at how research is contagious, and what humor actually means.

Is Humor Really Contagious?

Research has shown in multiple ways how humor is contagious. Kids copy others particularly when it comes to humor. If you laugh, others are likely to laugh (or smile) in response. This is why canned laughter has been used in media.

And one study showed that laughter is contagious as a social feature, too, almost like ‘peer pressure’ to laugh.

But in the sense of contagious as in ‘catching a cold’, of course, humor isn’t really contagious. You can’t catch ‘humor’ virally. However, mentally/emotionally/socially, it’s contagious!

Contagious1) transmissible by direct or indirect contact with an infected person
Contagious 4) exciting similar emotions or conduct in others
Table Using the Definition for ‘contagious’ by Merriam-Webster

Merriam-Webster has several meanings for ‘contagious’ online. The first definition provided is the most common one, and for this word, the most common meaning is that of something ‘transmissible by direct or indirect contact with an infected person.’ The fourth meaning is the one that is used for the concept of ‘humor is contagious.’ (See table above)

What is meant by humor?

Let’s be clear about what’s actually meant by ‘humor.’ What is humor?

Humor is the ability to understand and apply comedy; or the ability to recognize and use the incongruous or funny in things, situations, and people. Having a sense of humor is using humor over time so that it’s a personal quality for your own, but also others’ amusement.

As a teacher, I often explained words using the dictionary (to provide common and multiple meanings, as well as the context of parts of speech). After that, a thesaurus is another effective resource to explain unfamiliar words to kids because you can use it to find common synonyms and antonyms.

Let’s do that for ‘humor’.

  • Synonyms for humor: comedy, comic, comicality, drollery, drollness, funniness, hilariousness, and humorousness. 
  • Antonyms for humor: agony, anguish, grief, heartache, misery, sorrow, torment, and seriousness.

A follow-up activity to learn new words would be to apply them. For instance, I’d have students practice using the new words in conversation as well as in writing.

Example sentences for ‘humor’:

  1. The students failed to see any humor (comicality) in the bully’s mean jokes.
  2. Her humor (comedy) was infectious.
  3. The humor (comic) of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ is most enjoyed by kids 8 and up.
  4. He laughed without humor (funniness).

Is Humor and Laughter The Same Thing?

Some have even tried experiments where they start laughing in order to see if others do too, and how long it takes if so.

So does this mean that humor and laughter are actually the same thing? If humor is contagious, is laughter contagious, too?

Humor and laughter are not the same thing, though they are closely associated. In fact, you can have one without the other. One can find something funny or humorous intellectually, but not actually laugh. Likewise, you can laugh without humor due to nervousness, contempt, or anxiety.

Some people laugh without any humor involved at all. Laughing can be a coercive tactic to get attention or to make yourself appealing to others. It can be a way to try to elevate your status or appear fulfilled. (Source: WebMD)

Some Other Facts About Laughter:

  • Women laugh more than men.
  • Speakers laugh more than their audience.
  • Everyone can laugh, whether you are mute, deaf, blind, or not.
  • You can laugh before you have language.
  • The amount you laugh is thought to be genetically tied.
  • People laugh more in social settings, but also laugh alone.

Laughter is more about socializing than anything being funny.

And we’ve all had experiences where we think something is humorous or funny but not laughed at all. Why is this?

You can find the humor in something because of your ability to put the ‘thing’ in context. However, as we age, and depending on the situation, we might not feel inclined to actually laugh out loud.

What are the different types of humor? According to scientists, there are 4 types of humor.

  1. Affiliative- This is humor that is shared among friends and expands friendships.
  2. Self-enhancing- This is humor that makes you feel better; it’s a way to elevate yourself in situations.
  3. Aggressive-This is humor that is like bullying; it’s putting others down through teasing and ridicule.
  4. Self-defeating humor- This is also known as ‘self-deprecating’ humor; it puts yourself down to be humble while making others laugh for amusement.

Now, different kinds of genres of humor can fall under these categories, and could even fall under several. Some of those sub-genres of humor are slapstick; wry humor; dry or deadpan humor; shock humor; and dark humor.

How To Make the Right Humor Contagious

A family with a shared sense of humor is believed to have stronger bonds.

Now that we understand that humor is contagious, there’s power in that. And responsibility to apply humor most appropriately with our kids.

Parents, and those in charge of kids, must apply humor thoughtfully for it to be healthy and effective. Humor builds relationships, engages, informs, and calms anxieties and stress. And since humor is contagious, you want to use the right kind of humor with kids because they’ll be mimicking you.

Let’s consider how teachers should use humor for it’s contagious factor, and then parents in the next sections.

Contagious Humor- Teacher Version

Professor David Tarvin, who teaches at Texas A & M, gives talks to explain how to add humor in the classroom.

Teachers can benefit from humor is contagious in several ways. As a retired teacher with decades experience teaching kids from 6 to college-age, I can affirm this wholeheartedly.

Professor David Tarvin of Texas A & M says that teachers can add humor in the classroom in 3 effective ways.

  1. Use associations: Teachers can do this by incorporating familiar objects or film into their classroom, focusing on comedy connections.
  2. Use applied improv: Teachers can do this via interactive activities with kids. Chants and charades are examples.
  3. Use personal stories: Incorporating your own stories into lessons and instructions is very effective for engagement and connection, and when you can tell personal ’embarrassing’ stories it’s even better for kids.

Now besides building relationships and community connections with your student by using humor, remember humor is contagious. So what you’re modeling will be the kind of humor your kids will throw back at you.

And from a teacher point of view I can tell you that you want them throwing back positive, kind humor!

Teacher Tip: Avoid resorting to too much irony or satire; relying on sarcasm; or using humor that is over kids’ maturity level.

Contagious Humor- Parent Version

Douglas Wilson’s book, Why Children Matter (available on audio with a trial Audible membership), puts a focus on training up kids to love and know God, and having a sense of humor in the family goes along with that. Humor is contagious with your children, too.

Parents can use humor for strengthening their family bonds; for instructing their children; for lightening the mood when family tensions are elevated, and more. And just like with teachers, parents want their kids mimicking the right kind of humor. After all, humor is contagious, right?

Ways to Make the Right Humor Contagious for Parents:

  • Be silly. Whether it’s dad wearing an apron on his head or mom sticking funny notes around the house, there are a plethora of ways to act silly with your kids. When your kids know that being silly is okay, they’re more likely to be silly too.
  • Watch comedies together. It’s tricky to find family friendly comedies, but you can start with using Common Sense Media or IMDB‘s Parent Guide to vet movies for kid-appropriateness.
  • Play family games. When you play games, you’re bound to joke and use humor. Some good family games are old favorites like Monopoly or Scrabble and new classics like Exploding Kittens and Throw Throw Burrito.

Parent Tip: Be careful to keep humor impersonal with your kids. It’s easy to fall into the trap of poking fun at insecurities or mistakes with your kids, but this is truly detrimental and not conducive to promoting a healthy sense of humor in your kids.

Humor Is Contagious Punchline

So what’s the punchline for humor is contagious? That it is, indeed!

But you also need to remember a few other things, too.

Humor is the ability to see things as funny and to apply that. And the more you do it, the more it’s spread to others and comes back to you. This is the contagious factor of humor.

And with kids, you want to provide the right kind of humor- humor that’s affiliative and enhances relationships. It also means limiting sarcasm and other forms of dark humor.

For further reading about humor, I recommend these Fun Jokes articles:

Jackie Booe

A mother to four kids, grandmother ("Oma") to a growing number, a retired teacher for over 18 years, and a wife to Mat since 1994, Jackie knows kids and laughter. She holds a license to teach in 3 states and is certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners, with practical experience at all levels. She holds three degrees in the field of education and has taught education courses online at the university level as an adjunct professor, too. She has mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, in addition to homeschooling her own children.

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