How humour influences trust in smart home products

19Smart home technologies (SHT) often perform tasks in the most intimate parts of their users’ lives – their homes. To build trust in these technologies, providers often focus on creating a human-like interaction with the devices, for example through the use of humour. Although humour in SHTs is being pushed further, its actual impact in this context is still largely unexplored. In a current research project, scientists at BFH Wirtschaft are investigating the effects of humour on perceived social presence and initial trust in SHTs.

Smart home technologies such as smart thermostats or autonomous hoover robots have become widespread in recent years [1]. SHTs belong to the category of smart products. They can, for example, act autonomously, react to their environment or users and cooperate with other devices [2]. Many of these SHTs use voice control, allowing the user to interact with a virtual assistant such as Alexa, Cortana or Siri via voice conversation or chat. In this context, the use of humour as a social signal has recently gained importance. Although the use of humour in SHTs is becoming more advanced, the impact on users is still largely unclear and the scant research findings are ambivalent.

Building confidence

In principle, humour is a desirable personality trait that we value in others as well as in ourselves [3]. In particular, humour has been identified as a signal that is interpreted by the social environment, which in turn influences the way a person is perceived by others. Humour has also been identified as an important interpersonal factor in building relationships with others and in increasing trust even between relative strangers [4].

The researchers of this project assumed that humour can be felt not only in interpersonal interaction but also in response to technologies such as SHT. Specifically, it was hypothesised that humour may have a positive impact not only on relationships between people, but also on relationships between people and technologies. The reason for this is that people treat computers and computer artefacts that elicit social responses as social actors and apply social rules and expectations to them as they would to humans [5].

Controlled experiment

In a controlled experiment, study participants first watched a product video and then a simulated live dialogue between a smart home product and its user via a messaging app used to control the device. This dialogue contained the key manipulation: in the humour condition, the smart robot hoover was funny and made situational jokes when communicating with its user about what to do around the house. In the experimental group without humour, the communication between the intelligent robot hoover and its user about what to do was neutral. Apart from the humorous and non-humorous passages, the two dialogues and the context in which they took place were identical.

The results of the experiment show that humour is effective in building confidence in a SHT. Humour actually improves initial confidence by first significantly increasing the perceived social presence of the SHT.

Even though the results of this first experiment already show interesting correlations, the study has limitations and offers starting points for further exciting research. The current results are based on a single scenario in which respondents were shown a product video and humour was manipulated through a relatively simple manipulation in chat-based dialogue (humour vs. no humour). In future studies, the researchers will therefore continue to investigate the influence of different types of humour and forms of expression [6]. In addition, studies manipulating the influence of humour in different SHTs and contexts of use are planned. In addition, future studies will further investigate the relationship between humour and trust even after the purchase and long-term use of SHT.

Fig.: Research model, * = significant relationship

For publication

Tereschenko, Olga; Raff, Stefan; Rose, Stefan; and Wentzel, Daniel, “Are You Trying to Be Funny? The Impact of Affiliative Humor of Smart Home Technologies on Human-Like Trust” (2022). Proceedings of the ICIS 2022. 6.


[1] Turel, O., Matt, C., Trenz, M., and Cheung, C. M.K. 2020, “An Intertwined Perspective on Technology and Digitised Individuals: Linkages, Needs and Outcomes,” Information Systems Journal (30:6), pp. 929-939.

[2] Raff, S., Wentzel, D., and Obwegeser, N. 2020, “Smart Products: Conceptual Review, Synthesis, and Research Directions,” Journal of Product Innovation Management (37:5), pp. 379-404.

[3] Zeigler-Hill, V., Besser, A., & Jett, S. E. (2013). Laughing at the looking glass: Does humor style serve as an interpersonal signal? Evolutionary Psychology, 11(1), 147470491301100118.

[4] Martin, R. 2007, The psychology of humor: An Integrative Approach. New York, NY: Academic Press.

[5] Nass, C., Moon, Y., Fogg, B.J., Reeves, B., and Dryer D.C. 1995. “Can Computer Personalities be Human Personalities?” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (43:2), pp. 223-239.

[6] Martin, R. A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., and Weir, K. 2003. “Individual Differences in Uses of Humor and Their Relation to Psychological Well-Being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire”, Journal of Research in Personality (37:1), pp. 48-75.

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AUTHOR: Stefan Rose

Dr Stefan Rose is a research professor at the Institute of Marketing & Global Management at BFH Wirtschaft. His research is dedicated to these topics: Consumer Behaviour, Psychological Distance, Construction Level Theory, Mental Simulation and the Acceptance of Innovative Vehicle & Mobility Concepts. He holds a PhD from the RWTH Aachen University.

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