Uncovering Hidden Curricula: Use of Dark Humor in Anatomy Labs and its Implications for Basic Sciences Education

Angelique N. Dueñas*, Karen Kirkness, Gabrielle M. Finn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Humor is subjective within most settings, but within the anatomy laboratory, it is likely to be significantly more contentious. While humor may be considered a component of the hidden curriculum of medical education, it has yet to be studied specifically from a basic sciences perspective. This study sought to understand if, when, how, and why humor may be used in anatomy labs and the implications this may have in basic sciences education. A survey consisting of demographic and qualitative items was designed to sample widely from academics, students, and health professionals with anatomy laboratory experience. A total of 185 respondents, representing 9 countries participated following purposive sampling and snowball recruitment. Findings of significance were 72% of respondents who had experienced dark humor within the anatomy lab. Themes identified from free-text pertained to the use of internal and external barometers to ascertain the appropriateness of humorous remarks and the use of humor as a mechanism for diffusing stress. Polarity in responses concerning the acceptability of dark humor and rude mnemonics was also observed. This study highlighted that while dark humor may be a perceived tension release, many individuals make use of very specific internalized gauges to determine when and what humor may be appropriate. The data emphasized the need for not only future humanistic-focused anatomy but also basic sciences, education research, to better understand and have ideal educational experiences for all. Finally, this study provided further evidence of the impact of the hidden curriculum associated with the use of humor within educational and professional settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-354
Number of pages10
JournalMedical Science Educator
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Anatomy education
  • Dark humor
  • Hidden curriculum
  • Humor
  • Medical education
  • Professionalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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