Humor is generally considered to be a valuable means used in persuasion to achieve the overall objective and is also highly regarded as the number one psychological motivator. It is applicable in various scopes of communication such as advertising, education, foreign relations, and public relations as well as communication within an organization.
Humor is recognized as a tool used to develop learning since it is able to stimulate the attention of students, exemplify theory and progressively inspire the students through propinquity. There are notable comparables between persuasion and humor since persuasion involves a source presenting a message to the receiver while humor entails an originator calling attention to a funny object in order to entertain the appreciator.
According to Seiter & Gass (2004), the main objective of persuasion is to alter the attitude or mental state of receivers and as a consequence change their behavior. While on the other hand, main objective of humor is to alter the affective or emotional state of the appreciator with the aim of creating amusement which leads to laughter (Markiewicz, 1974).
The effectiveness of humor in persuasion in particular when dealing with broad communication such as advertising takes two different dimensions namely cognitive and affective (Chafe, 1987).
The cognitive dimension gives insight as to how humor optimistically influences the thought process of the one listening to a persuasive message by rousing interest, which creates rapport with the audience and encourages them to progress through an information-processing hierarchy (Martin, 2007).
The affective dimension regarding the effectiveness of humor in persuasion advocates for a constructive attitude toward the advertisement which acts as an arbitrate variable which is responsible for positively influencing the attitude of the audience towards the brand, thus improving the sales and other intended results targeted by the advertisers (Chaffee, 1994).
Studies have revealed that a conditioning process takes place when the audience is exposed to humor and a positive attitude toward the communicator is created leading to heightened interest regarding the subject matter (Mortensen, 2006).
However, though humor draws attention and does not impair the understanding of an audience, it nevertheless does not appear to present a strong challenge to non-humor at improving persuasion. It fails to augment or account for the sincerity of the source but does improve the affection towards the source and for humor to be most effective; it needs to be associated to the message rather than isolated (Markiewicz, 1974).
Various schools of thought believe that humor has minimal or no influences on preservation, conception, persuasion or even source evaluation and these contentions have been corroborated (Seiter & Gass 2004).
Humorous advertisements for instance can keep the audiences amused without necessarily evoking recall or retention and thus will not affect the sale results (Martin, 2007).
As indicated by Martin (2007), through content analysis based on business to business advertisements, a dedicated team of researchers failed to find the achievements brought about by humor that significantly affected recall, distribution, or ratings of the business. Nevertheless, humor does still have a firm standing in as far as enhancing persuasion is concerned since the source is able to build rapport with the receiver which is the fundamental goal of persuasion (Chafe, 1987).
Humor can also be damaging if not used in a controlled way, because humor has the tendency to pull away the audience from the intended message. According to Chaffee (1994), studies have shown that humor works peculiarly well with a weak argument where it has a propensity to compensate. Humor does not work well with a strong argument because it tends to distract the listeners from the core communique of the argument since humor draws attention primarily to itself (Seiter & Gass 2004).
There is also the risk of misinterpretation where some of the receivers may fail to comprehend the humor effectively losing interest (Chafe, 1987).
Further, humor such as satire and irony may draw the receiver into its complexity further alienating the receiver from the message intended (Mortensen, 2006). Finally, there is the risk that some members of the audience may be offended since humor is usually based on people and daily experiences. It is therefore easy to lose an audience through offences unintentionally brought up through humor persuasion as compared to non-humor persuasion (Markiewicz, 1974).
Previous persuasion theories such as magnetic persuasion allow for the source to connect to the receiver by attracting the receiver through communication. The audience of a speaker using magnetic persuasion is always drawn to the orator. With the inclusion of humor, magnetic persuasion can in fact be more powerful since humor immediately eases the tension that could be there amongst the audience.
Humor also puts the audience in a good mood which is important if magnetic persuasion is to achieve maximum potency. Since the audience is in a good mood, it is easier for them to connect to the speaker and express themselves; since humor is able to draw in their attention and also enhance their receptiveness and responsiveness towards the speaker.
Once such a level of rapport is achieved, the source is said to have completely disarmed the audience. Excessive use of humor is however discouraged since it tends to sway the audience from the important issues being discussed.
Chafe, W. (1987). Humor as a disabling mechanism. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol 16, No 30, pp. 16-26.
Chaffee, J. (1994). Thinking critically (4th Ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Markiewicz, D. (1974). Effects of Humor on Persuasion. Sociometry, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 407-422. Retrieved March 25, 2010, from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2786391
Martin, R. (2007). The psychology of humor: an integrative approach. Retrieved March 25, 2010, from: http://books.google.com/books?id=ieAcp2Z_zkIC&pg=PA136&lpg=PA136&dq=humor+and+persuasion&source=bl&ots=cuhHUnA8VS&sig=0I0_0P88_NU0LTrCXzIB5SDXX8I&hl=en&ei=qeWrS5mhGIHY7APR8JW5Dw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CC4Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=humor%20and%20persuasion&f=false
Mortensen, K. (2006). Increasing Persuasion with Humor. Retrieved March 25, 2010, from: http://ezinearticles.com/?Increasing-Persuasion-with-Humor&id=259310
Seiter, E. and Gass, H. (2004). Perspectives on Persuasion, Social Influence, and Compliance Gaining. Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson Education.