The Sleeper Effect
“Persuasion is often more effectual than force.” — Aesop
If you hear something multiple times is it true? … Do you find yourself believing something that originally you didn’t believe because you didn’t trust the source?
This might help explain it. The sleeper effect is a delayed attitude change. Technically, the sleeper effect is a phenomenon where a message that you originally discount, because of a “discounting cue,” becomes more persuasive over time. It happens like this: you hear something from a low-credible source, you dismiss the idea, but over time you start to believe it or become persuaded.
I first learned about the sleeper effect in a Social Psychology class in college. It didn’t really click for me at the time. Now it makes perfect sense. The danger is we start believing things that aren’t true. Over time our memory simply disconnects the low-credibility source from the message.
Here’s an example. I first heard that sneezing is like an orgasm from the movie The Lonely Guy, starring Steve Martin. It’s from a movie, so it’s easy to dismiss. Then over time, I hear the idea come up again but with variations like sneezing seven times in a row, so then I start to wonder (I’ve never actually seen anybody sneeze seven times in a row.) This article on sneezing myths puts it to rest … sneezing is like an orgasm only in that they both produce powerful bodily convulsions.
A simple way to catch yourself from the sleeper effect is to ask yourself, “What’s that based on?”
Photo by Olgierd Pstrykotworca.