Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Sleeper Effect

by Monica Peterson

            "A friend of a friend told me" is a common expression that many people use when telling a story that they have recently heard. However, as time passes, the source is forgotten, or dissociated from the message, yielding an increase in effect from the message content itself. Simply put, while we may discount something initially because of who said it, or where we encountered it, over time we will forget the source, or dissociate it from the message, but remember the message.
The sleeper effect theory is when people receive a communication associated with a discounting cue, such as a non-credible source, they are less persuaded immediately after exposure than they are later in time. (?). There are many people that rely on additional information to determine what they will eventually believe or not believe. Overtime there are many messages that we receive that are used to persuade us to change our opinion on the initial subject.
The sleeper effect relies solely on persuasion. If the intended audience is not consistently hearing differing information associated with a certain topic, they are more than likely to believe the majority opinion. Although the sleeper effect has caused many arguments on its credibility, it is hard to overlook some of the actualities that it implies.
In politics, for example, candidates running for an office heavily rely on the sleeper effect. The sleeper effect phenomenon is examined to explain how the impact of negative political advertising persists--and even increases--over time. The prevalence and increasing legitimacy of negative attack ads raises the question of how to respond to and discount the influence of an attack particularly among candidates who will almost inevitably be attacked (Weaver Lariscy, Ruth Ann, and Spencer F. Tinkham).
Negative news may not only have short term behavioral effects, but also effects on underlying attitudes such as trust in politicians, which may produce their sleeper effect on political behavior only in the long run (website). These attacks are primarily used during the election season between opposing candidates. These ads are used to persuade us to either investigate further on the targeted issue or change our perception on the intentions of the other candidate. These messages are extremely biased so they are not believed immediately. During debates we often do not initially believe what the candidates are arguing because they are mainly just attacking each other; this is when the sleeper effect comes into play.
Television news stations, such as CNN and the Fox News Channel, use the sleeper effect to its full potential. The information that they discuss about the candidates gives us more information on what the candidates are really advocating. Using this method it strongly determines how we will base our opinions on the candidates and ultimately vote in the election.
The art of persuading others to change their opinions and mindsets takes time and patience which is why the sleeper effect has been closely studied throughout the years. This theory is still being studied on its credibility and whether or not it truly does have an influence on the way we come to our final conclusions.

Weaver Lariscy, Ruth Ann, and Spencer F. Tinkham. "The Sleeper Effect and Negative Political Advertising." Journal of Advertising 28.4 (Winter 1999): 13. Academic OneFile. Gale. Northwest Missouri State - Owens Lib. 22 Sept. 2009 <>.

Kumkale, G. Tarcan, and Dolores Albarracin. "The sleeper effect in persuasion: a meta-analytic review." Psychological Bulletin 130.1 (Jan 2004): 143(30). Academic OneFile. Gale. Northwest Missouri State - Owens Lib. 22 Sept. 2009 

Kleinnijenhuis, J. , van Hoof, A. M. and Oegema, D. , 2006-06-16 "Negative News and the Sleeper Effect of Distrust" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dresden International Congress Centre, Dresden, Germany Online <PDF>. 2009-05-25 from

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