The differential effects of humor on three scientific issues: global warming, artificial intelligence, and microbiomes

Sara K. Yeo, Leona Y.F. Su, Michael A. Cacciatore, Jennifer Shiyue Zhang, Meaghan McKasy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humor is widespread in communication and its use in the context of science is no exception. Although science jokes are pervasive on social media, we are only beginning to understand the mechanisms through which humor affects people’s attitudes, opinions, and perceptions of scientific topics. Here, we add to our understanding of how funny science content influences attitude formation and behavioral intentions; these results can help communicators make strategic decisions related to humor’s use in real-world practice. Extending recent work in science communication, this study aims to understand the conditional nature of the mechanism by which funny images about three different scientific topics, combined with verbal humor, affects people’s social media engagement intentions by eliciting mirth. Our results offer evidence that choices about which humor types to employ matter when it comes to communicating scientific topics. For two of the three topics, artificial intelligence and microbiomes, exposure to different humor types resulted in different levels of mirth and humor’s effect on engagement intentions was moderated by respondents’ need for humor. However, humor did not have the same effect on global warming engagement intentions. Our findings have implications for the practice of, training, and scholarship in science communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-83
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education, Part B: Communication and Public Engagement
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • Science humor
  • artificial intelligence
  • engagement
  • global warming
  • microbiomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Communication


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