Emotions help us make decisions. This is the claim I want to make in this blog post. How do I persuade you to believe it's true?
I can appeal to logic by demonstrating facts, using an example, and citing authorities on a subject. Here is how:
Scientists have discovered that patients who have trouble processing emotions also suffer from impaired decision-making skills, which suggests that emotions play a key role in our ability to make decisions.
Humans are emotional creatures, and we often act irrationally and ignore facts. For example, people who refuse to vaccinate their children often ignore the fact that immunizations are safe and don’t cause autism – although there are scientific studies to support this claim. A lot of smokers know their habit is harmful to their health, but this knowledge doesn’t motivate them to quit smoking. In cases like these, emotion can be a stronger motivator than logic.
In his book, How to Stand Out, author Rob Yeung suggests that you can be more successful in convincing your audience if you use emotion instead of logic. If you can get your audience to feel something about your message or cause, then you've got a much better chance of getting them to act on it.
Demonstrate facts, use an example, and cite authorities – these are three methods of using logic and reason to argue for your position.
In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle found that the most persuasive arguments combine three elements – ethos which means "character" or "credibility," logos which means "logic" or "reasoning," and pathos which means "emotion" (see how to use Aristotle's rhetorical triangle to create a persuasive argument).
If I've managed to persuade you that emotions matter in our decision-making process, let's talk now about three ways you can use emotions to make your arguments even more convincing:
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A story is a powerful persuasive tool. Let me show you how to use storytelling to persuade people that emotions play a crucial role in our ability to make decisions.
How often have you bought something because you felt it was the right thing to do, without considering whether it offered any practical benefits?
When I was 28, I decided to buy my first car. I like small cars. I think they’re pretty. And the choice is quite large. Yet for me, it wasn’t the make that mattered. It was the color. All other features – engine size, safety, performance, climate control – were secondary. I wanted a yellow car because yellow is my favorite color and because it reminded me of my grandfather’s Zaporozhets: a compact hatchback with two doors, the engine in the rear, and the trunk in the front – the smallest Soviet car ever made.
I grew up in a small city in the south of Ukraine near the Black Sea. Like every third family in the former Soviet sphere, we had a dacha – a piece of land with a tiny house and a garden where we grew fruit and vegetables. It was 17 kilometers from home, and we would go there every Saturday in my grandfather’s Zaporozhets. After a day of hard work looking after potatoes and tomatoes, my grandfather took us to the sea in his yellow car. There was nothing I enjoyed more. My grandfather always said his yellow car was the best car in the world.
By the time I was ready to buy a car, they didn’t make the Zaporozhets anymore. And sadly, they didn’t import many small yellow cars to Ukraine. So I decided to go with the color red.
Our marketing-driven society considers a vehicle an extension of a person’s image. As part of this society, I chose a car based on what I thought about myself. The Kia Rio hatchback was a car I didn’t see around very often. With its sporty character, stylish looks, and dynamic red color, it seemed like an extension of my personality. In other words, I loved myself more for being this car’s owner.
If you were the salesperson at the Kia dealership I went to, selling the car’s technical characteristics wouldn’t have made me want to buy it. Talking about the car as an extension of my personality would have.
We often make decisions based on emotion and then justify those decisions with logic and reason. If you want to build a watertight argument, you need to include an emotional appeal in your writing.
If you want to persuade someone, you need to find ways to make them feel what you want them to feel. It goes without saying, you can't persuade people if you don't understand what matters to them and what may strike their emotions the most.
Let's say you're selling a new line of shoes for women. You could describe their features and benefits in a straightforward manner, as many product descriptions do, OR you can try describing how wearing these shoes makes a woman feel: "You'll feel like a million bucks when you slip into these fabulous heels." That kind of personal touch engages readers and connects with them on an emotional level by appealing to their vanity.
If you're selling a product that helps people stay safe, you could use words and images that evoke feelings of security and protection. NordVPN, one of the most popular VPN solutions, has the following copy on its website:
Your location, device type, IP address, browsing history — these are just some of the traces you leave when surfing the net. That data is incredibly valuable, whether it’s to an intrusive advertiser or a sneaky criminal. A VPN helps you reclaim your privacy. It encrypts your connection to the internet, so no one can eavesdrop on the websites you visit or data you share. It also hides your IP address and location, so snoopers can’t track you down.
Pay attention to the phrases:
This copy creates the feelings of safety and protection, making the reader feel like they are in control of their own privacy.
An effective way to create an emotional appeal is to use words that evoke feelings and can trigger positive or negative emotions, so-called power words. These words can make us feel excited, encouraged, attractive, curious, cautious, scared, or angry.
To evoke emotions, you need to think about how you want your readers to feel and then use power words that trigger that feeling. For example, you can try to get people angry about something, or use humor to make them engage. You can use fear to scare people into action or make your readers feel goosebumps and chills with your awe-inspiring messages.
Pride and shame can also be effective in persuading people to take action. Researchers have conducted field experiments on whether pride and shame would motivate voters to cast their ballot. To some voters, they said that the names of all verified voters would be published in the local newspaper (pride treatment), while others were told that the names of all verified nonvoters would be published (shame treatment). Researchers found that shame was more effective on average.
An emotional appeal can also be accomplished through metaphors. Metaphors can help you make a sale by appealing to the right brain, just like stories. They influence the way that we reason about complex issues, and accordion to research, have a strong effect on decision-making. Aristotle also promoted the use of metaphors in speeches and writings.
When you use a metaphor or analogy to compare a new idea to something that is familiar to your audience, it's like using a translator. Instead of speaking in a language that your audience doesn't understand, you're saying the same thing but in their language.
The Financial Times says that Warren Buffett, an American business magnate, and investor, “can barely get through a sentence” without using an analogy or metaphor. For example, he has said repeatedly that he looks for companies with a strong competitive position, comparing them to “economic castles” surrounded by moats.
In response to the question of why he invests 90% of his funds in the U.S., Warren Buffett says: “America’s economic soil remains fertile.” He could write volumes explaining this, but in just five words a metaphor allows him to communicate complexity, simply.
People who master metaphors have the ability to turn words into images that help others gain a clearer understanding of their ideas and remember them too.
While appealing to emotion can be done in a way that is ethical and persuasive, it can also be done in a way that manipulates people into supporting a conclusion without regard for the truth or facts.
If you appeal to fear (e.g., “Don’t take that pill — it could kill you!”), pity (e.g., “Please help me — I need your money!”), shame (e.g., “You’re against the government censoring the internet? Do you not think that our children should be protected from inappropriate content?”), ignorance (e.g. "Do you think it’s natural to inject a disease into your body?") or any other emotion but are not providing any actual evidence to persuade people to agree with you, you're committing a logical fallacy. This kind of "argument" is almost always fallacious because it ignores facts and relies on emotions alone.
When you are writing an article, an appeal to emotion can be an effective way to strengthen your argument. But don't use emotion to hamper a person’s ability to make the right decision.
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