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The effects of funny and serious task content and expectations of fun versus importance on children's cognitive performance


Nenagh Kemp, DPhil, University of Tasmania, Psychology, Locked Bag 30, Hobart, TAS 7000, Australia. Email:


This study investigated how children's performance on a cognitive task was influenced by funny and serious task content, and by fun or important instructions. Eighty-four children in Grades 1 and 5 performed two versions of a paired-associates word-learning task, which paired nonsense words with novel definitions and illustrations. All children completed a version in which the definitions and illustrations were funny, and a version in which they were not, with either fun or important instructions. Results revealed significantly better performance on the funny than on the serious version, but only when the funny version was presented first. There were no significant effects of task instructions. The findings confirm that making children's cognitive tasks funnier can enhance task performance. Although there were no effects of expectations as created by task instructions, the enhancing effect of funny content was influenced by children's expectations as created by their prior experience with the task.