Video Review Series, Part 4: Humor in Conflict Is No Laughing Matter

“The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”
~ Mark Twain

When Nicole Eggert got harsh publicity from the media for gaining weight since her “Baywatch” days, she decided to use humor as her weapon against the tabloid attacks.  She teamed up with “Funny or Die” to create a video mocking the societal preoccupation with the female body image.

We don’t often think about humor and conflict together.  Conflict is no laughing matter…or is it?

The average adult laughs 17 times a day.  Laughter is social.  We laugh 30 or 40 times more with people and often at almost nothing than we do when we are alone.  Research has shown that laughter increases heart rate, changes breathing, reduces muscle tension, and provides a boost to the immune system.  When employed skillfully, humor bonds people by creating a shared experience, relieves tensions, and increases the sense of well-being.

Humor is a jolt for the brain because it violates our routine expectations and patterns. Humor creates an element of surprise that captivates the brain.  According to the incongruity theory, humor involves the perception of incongruity or paradox in a joke.  The punch-line violates our expectations of what should follow.  The brain then tries to reconcile the incongruity.  If we get the joke, we laugh.  Humor involves the brain’s reward system, which mainly uses dopamine as its neurotransmitter.  That’s why humor elevates our mood, and positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking.  Researchers at Northwestern University discovered that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.

Cartoonist Robert Mankoff talks to Big Think about the science behind laughter and its importance to both humans and other animals:

Nowadays, we see humor more and more often used in social media campaigns by both brands and detractors.  For example, parody has been effective in social media attacks against  BP, following the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico as the UCBComedy videos below demonstrate.

BP Spills Coffee

BP: Rich Fish

Taco Bell offers a recent example of using humor in social media defense.  After an Alabama law firm filed a class action suit alleging that Taco Bell’s taco meat is less than 35% beef, Taco Bell President Greg Creed appeared in a YouTube video entitled “Of Course we Use Real Beef.”

In an effort to dispel consumer concerns over the ingredients in its seasoned beef, Taco Bell responded with full-page newspaper ads headlined, “Thank you for suing us,” as well as swift Twitter and Facebook campaigns, including links to Stephen Colbert’s parody of the claim on his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report.”


What do you make of these videos?  How can humor be effectively used in conflict management?

Related posts:
Year 2010 in Video Review Series: What can these videos teach us about the social brain, conflict management and social media? Part I: From baking pizzas to brewing conflicts

Video Review Series, Part 2: The Effective Video Apology “DOs” and “DON’Ts”

Video Review Series, Part 3: Leveraging Social Media for Crisis Communication

BP Spills Coffee

By | 2011-02-26T00:00:28+00:00 February 25th, 2011|Communication, Conflict Management|0 Comments