Humor is often advocated without much careful consideration of ... anything, really. Some insist that it is an effective way to change people's hearts and minds. Does it work? Sometimes. I want to think about when it does and does not work, and what the variables are in that process. That is the first question to be tackled here. Also, some people insist that humor is always appropriate, no matter what the topic is. But is that a responsible attitude? Maybe. I want to think about when it is and is not appropriate, and what the variables are in that process. These and other important questions will go unanswered as we do our best to explore the thoughtful application of humor in our attempts to persuade others.
An attempt is made to define humour by looking at the etymology of the word, a conceptual map of labels, and an integration of humour theories. The process of humour appreciation is assessed along with the use of humour as a tool. The need for a shared context in order to “decode” humour makes it exclusionary and the existence of a ridiculed target makes humour aggressive. Humour is ethical to the degree that the butt is consenting and/or deserving, and depends on the fiduciary duty of the initiator. It is hoped that this discussion will stimulate scholars to undertake a careful ethical analysis.
Persuasion theory was used to develop the following predictions about Lockheed-Martin's Dilbert-based business ethics training: (a) cartoon drawings would enhance liking for the source, (b) ironic wisecracks would distract users from counterargument, and (c) self-effacing humor would enhance source credibility. Canadian business students (n=148) participated in 1 of 4 versions of the game. Removing the cartoon drawings had little effect on the users changing their minds. Removing ironic wisecracks reduced persuasion somewhat. Interfering with the self-effacing combination of cartoons and wisecracks substantially reduced persuasion. Comes out of a part of my 2001 dissertation.
Canadian born-and-educated speaker. Retired university professor, having taught at Penn State Great Valley and the University of Minnesota Duluth. Former musician-arranger-lighting designer. Scholar of humor.
© 2016, Jim Lyttle, Ph.D.