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Study finds correlation between professor loneliness, use of memes in lecture

A recent study out of the UW-Madison School of Education has established a link between the number of memes, jokes, or internet references in a lecture or presentation and the instructor’s score on the MacLeod-Wagner Loneliness Index.

“What the Index gives us,” said researcher Dr. Jacqueline Maddox, a professor in the School of Education who ran the study, “is a quantitative metric for how lonely a person is in their everyday life, based on a survey of their social habits, leisure activities, and the number of microwavable Weight Watchers meals they consume per week.”

The new study determined that instructors the index deemed “significantly lonely” – any score above a 75 on the 100-point index – were 56% more likely to use at least one meme, joke, or reference in their educational presentations, compared with instructors the index labelled “somewhat lonely” or “not lonely”.

“Our theory, right now,” said Maddox, “is that there’s at least some degree of causation here – that lonely instructors are more likely to try to reach out and connect with students by using what they perceive to be topical or cool humor.”

“It’s certainly an interesting finding,” said Professor Grant C. Wrenskers, a chemistry professor not involved in the research. “I mean, I try to incorporate a little contemporary humor into most of my lectures, but I don’t know that I’m lonely. I do live alone with my goldfish, Mendeleev, and passing out papers is the closest I come to human contact in the average week, but…you can be alone without being lonely, you know? But if a student were to come up to me and tell me they appreciated a meme…well, that would be…” At this point in the interview, Professor Wrenskers trailed off, seemingly absorbed by a daydream of students talking to him.

The UW study is the latest in an increasing body of research around academic attempts at humor, including a Oxford psychology study last year that found, on average, memes used in lectures are at least 42 months past their peak and a study out of Stanford in 2015 that found 0.7% of students are typically amused by lecture memes.


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