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Humor on Social Media May Negate Message

Humor on Social Media May Negate Message

An Australian study has found that comedic delivery of a message may reduce the effectiveness of message itself. The finding is consistent with recent findings that suggest the emotional content of a message can influence the effectiveness of the message.

In the research, investigators from Queensland University discovered getting a laugh may not help to get road safety messages across. Specifically, they found that humorous driver sleepiness advertisements can often get lost in translation.

The discovery is salient because social media is becoming commonplace to advertise road safety messages.

On-line humor associated with social media is used to improve spread and retention of the message –- and to increase the likelihood of the video going viral. In America, humor is often used as a technique to provide content in defensive driving schools, remedial education often mandated after the receipt of a traffic violation.

In some cases, humor is an effective method to have a message remembered. “Humor is one strategy which may increase the likelihood of a video being watched and remembered and it may be appropriate for some road safety topics,” Ms. Hawkins said.

Nevertheless, researchers discovered Australian drivers feel humor is not appropriate to convey driver fatigue warnings. This discovery stemmed from a study of 10 young Australian drivers who were asked to watch and discuss driver sleepiness described in a YouTube video (with more than one million views).

They found that using humor to increase the “watch-ability” or penetration of the video, limited the effectiveness of the message.

The viral video made in Korea shows an animated road safety advertisement depicting a car full of anthropomorphic critters that, one by one fall asleep until the driver falls asleep and swerves off the road and over a cliff, causing everyone to bounce and roll.

“As part of the study we asked participants to reflect on what they had seen and share their thoughts and reactions,” explains Alana Hawkins, from University of Queensland’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety.

“Participants’ expectation was that road safety advertisements should be shocking and this advertisement violated that expectation and was therefore seen as inappropriate.

“The general feeling was that this light-hearted approach was inappropriate for the subject.”

Ms. Hawkins said the globalization of media and the popularity of online videos, meant road safety advertisements were easily accessible to young Australian drivers.

“We need to be looking at the effectiveness of advertising messages via non-traditional channels such as the internet and mobile phones,” she said.

“Young drivers are both large consumers of media on demand and at high risk of crashes on the road.

“While humorous advertising might be appropriate for some road safety topics such as anti-drink driving and anti-speeding messages, my small study shows that more research is needed to determine if using positive emotion-based messages such as humor is effective in preventing driver sleepiness.

“Using humor may limit effectiveness if drivers dismiss the video because it fails to meet their expectations of road safety messages.

“It is possible that the message is getting lost in translation and that drivers who dismiss an advertisement because of its humor are unable to extrapolate its positive calls for action.”

Source: University of Queensland

Humor on Social Media May Negate Message

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Humor on Social Media May Negate Message. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 13 Oct 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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