Mental Models: Humor Effect



How might this apply to great teams and cultures?

The basic principle of humor is that it is unexpected in some way. In learning contexts, use humor to:

  • Ease new knowledge acquisition and retention

  • Reduce hostility

  • Deflect criticism

  • Relieve tension

  • Improve morale

  • Help communicate difficult messages

How might this apply to your business?

Humor can be a useful tool in the sales person's toolbox, but it must be used with care. When people are relaxed, they trust more and will hence share more personal information, accept 'facts' from others and generally be willing to buy. Humor is a way of relaxing people and can easily put them in a good mood.

Some companies build humor into their entire brand. Delta, SouthWest Airlines, and Virgin are examples of organizations that incorporate humor into their brand. These companies can legitimately make fun of themselves, though they are yet deadly serious about delivering excellent customer experience.

Almost any online test is an opportunity to add humor. But don’t stop there: think about interactions and how they can be made humorous. Just as humor is injected into a conversation, we can easily add humor to hover actions, button clicks, three-step processes and other user actions.


Humor is a surprisingly useful and subtle way of persuading. How do you incorporate the element of surprise or humor to spark interest in what you are doing?

See Also

Affect Heuristic, Peak-End Rule, Surprise, Delighters


In the whirl of our day-to-day interactions, it’s all too easy to forget the nuances that distinguish great teams, great cultures, and great products/services.

Mental Model Flash Cards bring together insights from psychology into an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to your teams as well as the design of your products and services.