Next time your boss catches you watching funny videos on You Tube, don’t feel guilty. Tell her you’ve got a challenging task ahead and you’re trying to boost your productivity.
Need proof you’re not just slacking off? Point her in the direction of a new study that suggests exposure to funny stimuli may help people keep at it when completing difficult tasks. Psychological scientists David Cheng and Lu Wang of the University of New South Wales found that people who watched a funny video clip spent twice as long on a tedious task compared to people who watched neutral or positive videos.
“There has been increasing recognition that humor may have a functional impact on important behaviors in the workplace and that exposure to humor may increase the effectiveness of employees,” the scientists reported.
Humor can help people recover from stressful situations, but it can also provide a kind of “momentary vacation,” according to the Association for Psychological Science. “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 will ameliorate the stressful nature of work, boost morale, and increase productivity.”
Finding The Funny-Productivity Connection
For their study, Cheng and Wang first gave 74 students the tedious task of crossing out every instance of the letter “e” contained in two pages of text.
The 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.” For the contentment video, participants watched a scene with dolphins swimming. The remaining students watched a “neutral” eight-minute video about the management profession designed for students studying business. After watching the videos, the students reported their emotions using a standard seven-point scale of 16 discrete emotions.
Finally, the students were given an impossible task: they were asked to guess the potential performance of employees based on provided profiles, and told that making 10 correct assessments in a row would lead to a win. However, the computer software was programmed so that it was impossible to achieve 10 consecutive correct answers. Participants were allowed to quit the task at any time.
As Cheng and Wang predicted, students who watched the funny “Mr. Bean” clip spent significantly more time working on the task, and made twice as many predictions than the other two groups.
“Although humor has been found to help relieve stress and facilitate social relationships, the traditional view of task performance implies that individuals must concentrate all their effort on their endeavors and should avoid things such as humor that may distract them from the accomplishment of task goals,” Cheng and Wang conclude. “We suggest that humor is not only enjoyable but more importantly, energizing.”
So in the spirit of boosting your productivity, we share this Funniest On The Job Fails 2016 video with you. (At least it’s work related!)