Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Why are you laughing?

Friends without laugh track:

Friends with laugh track:

Laugh tracks are examples of where social evidence has been purposely falsified. Many people including actors hate laugh tracks but TV executives still use it (Cialdini, 2007). Why? Studies show that using laugh tracks makes audiences laugh longer and more frequently when funny material is presented (Smyth & Fuller, 1972) and for them to rate the material as funnier (Fuller & Sheehy-Skeffinton, 1974). It works especially with poor jokes (Nosanchuk & Lightstone, 1974).

Canned laughter works because of social proof. We are used to taking others laughter as a cue, that we can be made to respond to the sound and not substance of the real thing. Weapons of influence consist of identifying fixed action patterns and exploiting them. i.e expensive = good, where price is the trigger to quality. Similarly, laughter has become a trigger feature.

So why do we behave according to other peoples’ actions? Pratkanis (2007) suggests it is because of the belief that ‘if others are doing it, it must be the correct thing to do’. Just like other principles of social Influence, social proof is an easy shortcut to determine how to behave but also makes us vulnerable to attacks by those who use this principle to their advantage.

 “Since 95 % of people are imitators & only 5 % initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer” (Cialdini, 2007). We see the behavior of other people as a guide for our own behavior. This is also exploited in bars or at church collections, salting the tip jars to give the impression that tipping is the norm.
The principle of social proof works best when the proof is given by the actions of many other people (Bandura, Grusec & Menlove, 1967). In this case, the laughter of lots of random people allows the principle to work. So you are laughing because others are laughing, even when it isn’t funny.
… What else do you do because of what others do?
Bandura, A., Grusec, J. E., & Menlove, F. L. (1967). Vicarious extinction of avoidance behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5(1), 16.
Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion (pp. 90-91). New York: Collins.
Fuller, R. G., & Sheehy-Skeffington, A. (1974). Effects of group laughter on responses to humourous material, a replication and extension. Psychological Reports, 35(1), 531-534.
Nosanchuk, T. A., & Lightstone, J. (1974). Canned laughter and public and private conformity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29(1), 153.
Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. New York: Psychology Press.

Smyth, M. M., & Fuller, R. G. (1972). Effects of group laughter on responses to humorous material. Psychological Reports, 30(1), 132-134.

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