The Sleeper Effect: The Influence Of Time

The Sleeper Effect: The Influence of Time

When we persuade someone, we urge that person to do, feel, or think something specific. But what happens over a longer period of time? The effectiveness of our persuasion wears off over time, and it becomes more and more likely that our influence on the other person will diminish. However, this decrease in influence due to the passage of time does not always occur, and sometimes the opposite can even happen: Then the so-called sleeper effect sets in.

If someone tries to convince us, we may agree immediately. However, the sleeper effect causes the message to gain influence over us in the long term. Usually we forget who tried to persuade us. Interestingly, the news can then have more of an impact on us and cause us to eventually change our minds.

The duration of the influence

A message with which we try to convince the interlocutor is most successful shortly after it has been sent. The effect of this message remains as long as the conversation partner remembers it. The longer the message is processed, the longer our influence will last. This is how it usually works.

But how do we process such a message? The processing depends in part on our cognitive abilities. The more cognitive resources we invest, the more likely it is that we will remember the message longer. Our cognitive resources include: our attention while receiving the message, trying to understand what it means, reflection, repetition, talking to another person about it, comparing it with other messages, accessing the message, etc.

A woman is holding up a tablet in a supermarket and the tablet screen shows an empty shopping basket.

The sleeper effect

Sometimes a message only convinces us over time. Contrary to the expectations we explained in the previous section, persuasion can take a long time to bear fruit. For the effects of persuasion to take effect, certain conditions must be met:

  • The content of the message and the peripheral signals that the recipient perceives while the message is being sent should separately affect the recipient’s. In addition, content and peripheral signals must not influence each other. The latter include everything that does not belong to the content of the message, but is also processed. Credibility is one of the most important components.
  • The recipient should carefully analyze the message. If the message is text, the recipient should read it carefully. On the other hand, if the message is spoken, the recipient must be able to hear it clearly and understand its content. This is the only way to increase the likelihood that he will keep them in his mind.
  • The sender of the message must have enough credibility to convince the recipient. For example, if we receive a message from a journalist and accept it based on the information he has provided, then the message and the journalist lose credibility if we learn a short time later that an untrustworthy source has been used.
  • Over time, the recipient should have forgotten the sender of the message, but not the content of the message. In our example, this means that we forget which journalist spoke to us or wrote an article. Instead, we still remember the message.
A speaker stands at the lectern and juggles with various masks.

The use of the sleeper effect

The sleeper effect is very useful if we want to convince people who initially react rather cautiously. It usually takes about six weeks to see the effects of our persuasion. When we see advertisements trying to get us to buy certain products, we usually remember the content of the ad longer than the brand or company that promoted it. We also often forget about the actors who starred in the ad. Depending on our interests and needs, we can try to use the sleeper effect for ourselves or to avoid it.

It is believed by those skilled in the art that a disconnection between the message and its source occurs over time when the sleeper effect sets in. As a result, some companies choose to issue similar reports on a regular basis. This is enough to stimulate memory and prevent the source and message from dissociating. This avoids the sleeper effect. That’s why companies like to use the same actors in advertisements – George Clooney, for example, has probably been drinking Nespresso for years. If we forget who represents the brand, it also loses credibility. On the other hand, we associate a brand with reliability if they use the same actors for their advertising.

Sometimes, however, it is desired that the recipient forgets the source. Above all, if this is not credible. In these cases, promoting the sleeper effect is beneficial. Some politicians are not always credible given their entanglements. That is why they send their most important messages from a distance. They do this so that after receiving a message, people forget about the sender. You don’t want people to remember who the sender was, but don’t forget the content of the message.

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