Monday, January 17, 2011

The Effectiveness of Humor on Persuasion

            Humor comes in many forms such as wit, satire, sarcasm, irony, farce, parody, mimicry and even parody. Humor is something that is experienced even in the earliest stages of life (Cohen, 2010). Humor is just as prevalent in the life experience of a human as the use of persuasion. The effectiveness of humor can be seen when applied to persuasion theories such as the Mere Exposure theory, the Consistency theory and the Heuristic-Systematic Model of Persuasion.
            Humor can be applied to many persuasion theories but one particular theory is the ME theory. “Mere Exposure Theory, also known as the Mere Exposure Effect, states that repeated exposure to an unfamiliar stimulus can in and of itself increase positive affect toward the stimulus” (Seiter & Glass, 2004). This theory is one that simply grows on a person. It’s not often recognized by individuals, but it’s widely applied in everyday life. For instance with advertising, the more a commercial is run the more a person begins to relate to it. However, this approach isn’t always positive, when people are over exposed to things the opposite of the desired effect can be applied: people begin to despise the product. My own personal experience with this theory has to do with this girly song called Tic Toc, the more I heard it and familiarized myself with the more I enjoyed it. However, when I heard it to many times on the radio I began to hate the song. Humor has played a positive role in re-acclimating me to that particular song as this male coworker of mine would walk around the office singing it. The song once again has a positive spin on it because a new respected source that used humor was applied. “Humor might be effective in persuasion is by increasing liking for the source. In particular, the choice of humor might illustrate a shared sense of humor that hints at a similar set of underlying values. It has been suggested that moods during a persuasive message might be attributed to the source” (Lyttle, 2001). This theory requires a balance between all variables, the right amount of exposure vs. the right amount of humor.
Psychological Consistency theories are also affected by humor. “These theories share the common assumption that individuals have an innate desire to hold consistent beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors” (Seiter & Glass, 2004). The strength of the consistency theory has to do with the populations need for consistency in life. It’s a natural desire to have a form of consistency in all forms of life, as we are raised to place a high value on it.
            Humans work well in patterns, and given such it is an unconscious desire to maximum consistency in even the smallest matters. Persuasion often takes advantage of this particular theory, and humor within that persuasion can play large role. “Humor might be effective in persuasion [by blocking] systematic/central processing by distracting receivers from constructing counterarguments. This effect has been confirmed repeatedly. The effect may be even stronger when ironic humor is used” (Lyttle, 2001). An example of this taking place can be seen everyday life, say a person likes the actor Adam Sandler and goes into buy one of his movies, the salesclerk ends up targeting his love and locates a collection of Adam Sandler movies. The salesclerk can use humor to distract the client from finding negatives in the sales pitch, and therefore swindling the client into five movies instead of one. The weakness of this is that the client could potentially get annoyed with the use of humor in this situation, and walk away with nothing.
            Another theory referred to as the Heuristic-Systematic Model of Persuasion “operates on the assumption that individuals rely on two different modes of information processing. One mode, called systematic processing, is more thoughtful, deliberate, and analytical. This mode focuses on the content of the message. The other mode, called heuristic processing, is more reflexive or automatic. Heuristic processing is based on the application of decision rules or heuristic cues, such as mental shortcuts, which simplify information processing and decision making” (Seiter & Glass, 2004). This theories strength is drawn from today’s society of apathetic beings. People are looking for the simplest way to reach a reliable outcome and it’s become a trained process to rely on mental shortcuts to get to a desirable place. This is the simplest theory to apply humor to, simply put, humor can make a person feel warm and comfortable therefore kicking into gear the heuristic theory. Instead of consciously putting in the effort to find the best product, it’s easy to just go with what feels right. “One way that humor might be effective in persuasion is by creating positive affect. People who are in a good mood are less likely to disagree with a persuasive message and more likely to rely on heuristic/peripheral cues” (Lyttle, 2001). Obviously the adverse affect would be that if humor happened to be at the expense of the target, making them feel uncomfortable and in a bad mood. Now, no longer trusting of the source and their feelings, the client may switch to a critical evaluation of the persuasion at hand.
            When theories such as the Mere Exposure theory, the Consistency theory and the Heuristic-Systematic Model of Persuasion are used in unison with humor, different values of effectiveness can be calculated. Humor can be effective by creating a positive effect, putting a person in a good mood which makes them less likely to disagree with a persuasive message. Humor can be used to make someone more comfortable with the source, and therefore a bond is created with strengthens the ability to persuade. Comedy can also be used to distract receivers from being analytical making persuasion an easier task.

Cohen, S.B. "Humor." World Book Advanced Encyclopedia. World Book, 2010. Web. 
      Retrieved April 27.
Jim Lyttle.  (2001). The effectiveness of humor in persuasion: The case of business ethics
      training. The Journal of General Psychology, 128(2), 206-16.  Retrieved April 27,
      2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 77223102).
Seiter, J. E., and Gass, R. H. (2004), Perspectives on Persuasion, Social Influence, and
      Compliance Gaining, Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson Education, Inc.

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