The Ethics and Persuasion of Humor

1. Introduction

This essay looks at the ethics and persuasion of humor. In particular, it will explore what humor is, how it works and the social functions it serves. It will then go on to discuss how humor can be used in persuasion, before concluding with some thoughts on the ethical implications of using humor for persuasive purposes.

2. What is humor and how does it work?

Humor is the ability to aggravate laughter as well as offer pleasure (Falkenstein, 2006). Billig (1996) argues that humor works by interrupting cognitive processes, causing the individual to see the world in a different way. This interruption can lead to a number of different outcomes, such as relief from anxiety, feelings of at ease or an improved ability to process complex information (Bell et al., 2004). For sales representatives, humor has been found to be an effective means of persuasion, with customers feeling more relaxed and at ease in the presence of a joke-telling salesperson (Ghoshal & Bhattacharya, 2002).

3. The functions of humor

Humor serves a number of social functions. These include providing amusement, relieving tension, establishing group membership and enhancing status (Keltner & Lowenstein, 1993). Humor can also be used to make people feel more comfortable in social situations and to reduce the anxiety that comes with meeting new people (Bell et al., 2004). In addition, humor can be used to make complex information more accessible and easy to understand (Fogarty, 2009).

4. Humor in persuasion

Humor can be an effective tool for persuasion as it can establish positive influence (Bell et al., 2004). When trying to persuade someone using humor, it is important to consider the audience and what type of humor they will find funny. For example, self-deprecating humor is often seen as more effective with strangers than with friends or family (Ghoshal & Bhattacharya, 2002). It is also important to ensure that the humor is not offensive or insensitive as this could have the opposite effect to what is intended.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, humor can be an effective tool for persuasion but should be used carefully so as not to cause offense. The social functions of humor also need to be considered when using it for persuasive purposes.


Humor is a form of communication that uses amusement and laughter to make a point or to brighten someone's day. It differs from other forms of communication in that it is usually intended to be light-hearted and fun, rather than serious or informative.

Humor can be used ethically to persuade people by making them laugh and feel good about themselves. This can lead them to be more receptive to your message, and more likely to remember it. However, if not used carefully, humor can also backfire and offend people instead of persuading them.

The potential risks of using humor to communicate with others include offending someone or causing them to react negatively to your message. However, the benefits can include building rapport, making your message more memorable, and increasing the likelihood that people will agree with you.

Our understanding of ethics changes when we consider the role of humor in persuasion because we need to be careful not to cross the line into unethical territory. For example, we need to make sure that our jokes are not offensive or hurtful, and that we are not using humor as a way to manipulate people into agreeing with us.

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