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  • Yoram Solomon, PhD

Beware of using humor during a crisis

A Northwestern University study confirmed with MRI scans that comedy increases activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain associated with creativity. Another study by MIT found that improv artists demonstrated 20% more ideas (fluency) and their ideas were 25% more creative (flexibility). Furthermore, they found that using improv games as a warmup for a brainstorming session increased creative output by 37%. Finally, a Harvard University study found that sarcasm can be an instigator of conflict, but also a catalyst for creativity. They made an interesting observation, though: "Expressing sarcasm to or receiving sarcasm from trusted [my emphasis] others increases creativity without elevating conflict." I would be happy to share the links to those studies with you. 


That made me think. You could hear the same joke, the same sarcastic comment, or get the same direct feedback from two different people. When you hear it from one of them, you laugh, but when you hear it from the other, you get angry. How come? It's because you trust the first person more than you trust the second. You trust that the first person cares about you. You trust that the first person wants to laugh with you, rather than laugh at you. You can take the same feedback from someone you trust and use it to your benefit, or from someone you don't trust and believe it was made to hurt you. 


Recently, I found another dependency. On time. When the COVID-19 pandemic had just started, I thought it was very funny to see the headline "A Coronavirus conference got cancelled due to Coronavirus." While I found it funny in mid-April, by mid-May I hesitated from bringing it up in a webinar I gave to MPI (Meeting Professionals International). In April, I also told people that we had the first case of Corona in our house, and immediately added that when we ran out of Corona, we got a second case of Budweiser... Well, not so funny in May, either. 

So, think about how you use humor, sarcasm, and even feedback. People are a lot more sensitive now. A joke that was funny in April, may not be funny now. A sarcastic remark that was taken as witty in March, may be taken badly now. The acceptable level of humor, sarcasm, and direct feedback depends not only on the level of trust that people have in you, but also on time. 


After all, humor equal tragedy plus time...

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