Sleeper Effect

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Sleeper Effect


Normally, if people are exposed to some persuasive message (for example an advertisement), their attitude toward what the message aims to achieve increases significantly. However, this persuasion effect is only temporary, because over time the newly formed attitude gravitates back toward the opinion that was held before the message was ever received. Almost to a level as if they were never exposed to the message. This decay in attitude change from advertisments and the like is well known and proven many times.

What is the Sleeper Effect? Meaning.

The Sleeper Effect is a persuasion technique based on the phenomenon that when people are exposed to a persuasive message (for example an advertisement) followed by a discounting cue near the end/bottom (for example a disclaimer, warning or low-credibility source), people tend to be more persuaded over time.

The Sleeper Effect has been researched first by Carl I. Hovland, Arthur A. Lumsdaine and Fred D. Sheffield in 1949, and was revised by Stiff in 1994. Contrary to general principles of persuasion, the Sleeper Effect states that messages from low-credibility sources or with a message disclaimer at the end might be more persuasive if certain conditions are met. If a message dissociates from its source, it might become more credible and thus more persuasive over time.

Requirements for Sleeper Effect. Assumptions

Following failing attempts to replicate the effect, some researchers concluded that the sleeper effect does not exist. Cook ea (1979) argued that the sleeper effect will occur (only) if:

  1. The message is persuasive;
  2. The discounting cue has a strong enough effect to suppress initial attitude change;
  3. Enough time has elapsed between immediate and delayed post-tests; and
  4. The message itself still has an effect on attitudes during the delayed post-test.

Indeed, evidence was provided (1978) for the sleeper effect occurring under these 4 conditions. And indeed the sleeper effect was found not to occur when any of the four requirements were not met.

More about: Persuasion Theory.


Gruder, CL; TD Cook; KM Hennigan; BR Flay; C Alessis; J Halamaj, 1978, "Empirical tests of the absolute sleeper effect predicted from the discounting-cue hypothesis", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36(10), p. 10611074.

Cook, TD; CL Gruder; KM Hennigan; BR Flay, 1979, "History of the Sleeper Effect: Some Logical Pitfalls in Accepting the Null Hypothesis", Psychological Bulletin 86(4), p. 662679.

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Best Practices

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40 Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

Persuasion Techniques, Persuasion Theory
Interesting presentation that describes 50 scientifically proven ways to be persuasive. 1. Six Universal Principles of ...

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Compare with: Bait and Switch  |  Persuasion Techniques  |  Door in the Face  |  Foot in the Door  |  4 Ps of Persuasion  |  Mirroring and Matching  |  Validity Effect  |  Low Ball Technique  |  Forced Compliance  |  Framing  |  Balance Theory  |  Cognitive Dissonance

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