The persuasive power of humor is second to none. If someone can make you laugh while trying to change your mind, chances are they’re on to a winner. Not long ago in London, I walked past a homeless man selling a copy of the magazine the Big Issue, the proceeds of which go toward helping those living on the street. “Free delivery within 10 feet!” he called out. I bought one on the spot. Precisely why humor is so powerful an influencer is an interesting question. The answer lies in one of its key ingredients, incongruity. The best jokes are the ones we don’t see coming, and because we don’t see them coming, they violate expectation.
Our brains do a double take. And in that fraction of a second, while their backs, so to speak, are turned, our brains are open to suggestion. The neurology of incongruity—what happens inside the brain as it is doing a double take—is well documented. Single cell recordings in monkeys show that the amygdala, the emotion center of the brain, is more sensitive to unexpected than expected presentations of both positive and negative stimuli. In humans, intracranial EEG recordings reveal increased activation in both the amygdala and the temporoparietal junction, a structure involved in novelty detection, on exposure to unusual events. Such findings confirm that incongruity not only gains our attention (a crucial component of any effective persuasion—just ask the guy in business class who complained about his dinner) but that it also lobs a stun grenade between our ears. It disables cognitive functioning and compromises, for a brief but critical time window, our neural homeland security.
Yet incongruity isn’t just about distraction. It’s also about reframing—as a study by social psychologist David Strohmetz and his co-authors at Monmouth University demonstrated rather fiendishly in 2002. The study in question was conducted in a restaurant, and Strohmetz began by dividing diners up into three groups, according to how many candies the waiter handed out with the check. To one group of diners the waiter gave one candy. To another, he gave two. And to the third—and this is where it gets interesting—he did the following. First he gave out one candy and then walked away . . . then turned back around, as if he had changed his mind, and added another. So one group got one candy. And two groups got two. But the two who got two were given them in different ways. (I hope you’re paying attention—there’s a test later.)
Did the number of candies and the manner in which they were allocated bear any relation to tip size? You bet it did. Compared with a control group of diners who got no candies at all (charming), those who got one tipped, on average, 3.3 percent higher. Similarly, those who got two candies tipped 14.1 percent higher. But the biggest increase was shown by those who received first one candy, then another—a biblical escalation of philanthropic zeal 23 percent greater than their uncandied brethren. That unexpected change of heart completely reframed the situation. It instigated a whole new way of appraising the interaction. He’s giving us special treatment, the diners thought to themselves. Let’s give him something back.
Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010