Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Persuasion and emotion

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Persuasion and emotion:
What is the role of emotion in persuasion?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Ever since our first ancient ancestors needed help to hunt, gather, and organise the tribe, the challenge of how best to persuade others has been an important one. We humans are inclined to believe we are rational beings, often believing the choices we make are the only ones that make sense, even when faced with the reality that many others would behave and think differently to us. The idea that emotions play a powerful role in what persuades us is not new. Indeed it was over 2300 years ago when Aristotle identified Pathos, or emotional appeal, as a key strategy to win over audiences. Today, whether you're a business owner looking to convince an audience to try your product, a manager trying to inspire their team, or even trying to convince a friend to do you a favour, understanding the role emotion plays in persuasion can help.

Focus questions:

  • What function do our emotions play?
  • How thoroughly do we process persuasive arguments?
  • How do our emotions affect this process?

Emotion[edit | edit source]

What is emotion?[edit | edit source]

Emotions are inbuilt responses to significant life events (Keltner et al., 2019). They are comprised of our subjective feelings, our expressions, our bodily responses, and as adaptive mechanisms have a purposive element. Subjective feelings include our cognitive interpretation of an event that’s happened, whether it's positive or negative, and how it may hinder or benefit us. The expressive component is how we communicate our emotions to others and includes facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. This signals to others how we feel and they signal back to us, helping us to interpret social cues and contexts. Bodily responses can include raising our heart rate, priming us for action by releasing certain hormones or making us feel relaxed if there is no threat. The purposive element to emotion is the part around which functional theories of emotion are based.

Functional theories of emotion[edit | edit source]

Functional theories of emotion are aligned with Darwinist thinking and essentially posit four fundamental principles, emotions have inherently adaptive functions, emotions are experienced due to events that are personally relevant, each emotion has a distinct and specific goal or motivation associated with it, and emotions organise and motivate behavior (Nabi, 1999). Fear, for instance, is experienced when a situation is appraised as out of our control and is threatening to us physically or psychologically. The action fear compels us to take is to escape the threatening situation. One can see how this is adaptive, personally relevant, has a specific goal, and wants to organise and motivate our behavior to get away. Another example is anger which is experienced when there is an obstacle in our way, or a perceived injustice toward oneself or others has occurred. This is an energising emotion that motivates us to go out and engage with the problem to correct it, even if there is some risk of personal cost. This can lead to personally relevant problems being addressed and solved and this is angers adaptive purpose. All emotions serve similarly useful functions otherwise they would not have evolved to be universal.

Persuasion[edit | edit source]

What is persuasion?[edit | edit source]

Persuasion refers to the active attempt to change a person or peoples beliefs, attitudes or behavior (Cacioppo et al., 2018). Persuasion is commonly attempted at an individual to individual level but can also be performed by a group to another group of people. Advertising, leadership, and social movements are all examples where one entity is trying to persuade others in some way or another.

Elaboration likelihood model[edit | edit source]

A change in attitude, beliefs or behavior occurs through the processing of new information. The elaboration likelihood model proposes two cognitive routes people use for this process, the central route, and the peripheral route (Kitchen et al., 2014). The central route is used for thorough processing. When an argument demands complete focus, points and counterpoints are thoroughly explored, and one arrives at a coherent and complete conclusion it is the central processing route that is used. The strength of the argument is the key factor which will persuade the recipient if the central processing route is engaged. However, the central processing route demands a large amount of cognitive resources. In contrast, the peripheral route is used to process arguments in a more shallow manner when that is all that is required. When it is not worth expending a lot of mental energy on an argument we default to heuristics to make up our minds, and act on less thought through rationales.

Figure 1. The two processing pathways of the Elaboration Likelihood Model

See Figure 1

Heuristic systematic model[edit | edit source]

The heuristic systematic model is similar to the elaboration likelihood model in that they are both dual process models, or propose two routes of information processing (Chaiken & Ledgerwood, 2011). The largest difference is one of terminology where information can be processed systematically, or carefully and thoroughly, which is similar to the central route in the elaboration likelihood model. Alternatively information can be processed using heuristics which is a shallower and fast way of getting to a conclusion. The heuristic path is equivalent to the peripheral route in the elaboration likelihood model.

Role of emotion in persuasion[edit | edit source]

Cognitive functional model[edit | edit source]

One role emotion plays in persuasion is that the emotions are elicited by persuasive messages in order to facilitate how we process the information they contain. The cognitive functional model outlines this by drawing together functional theories of emotion and dual process models of persuasion (Nabi, 2002). In the model, we cognitively appraise a message to see if it contains personally relevant information. This can be a threat or an obstacle or something which affects us. If found, this will then elicit a corresponding emotional reaction. This emotion will then influence how much attention we pay to the message. According to the model if we experience an avoidant emotion, such as fear, we are less motivated to attend and if we experience an approach emotion, such as anger, we are more motivated to attend to the message. Then, our expectation of reassurance from the content of the message combined with our motivation to approach or avoid determines how deeply or shallowly we process the information. If we expect the message content will solve the problem, and we are experiencing an avoidance emotion like fear, we use peripheral processing to readily accept the message without deep thought. If we are experiencing an approach emotion we want to engage with the message and we centrally process and use deep thought. If we are unsure whether the message will provide reassurance we process using the central route to analyse it thoroughly. If we do not expect the message to reassure us emotionally then we only use peripheral processing and heuristics. When our emotions cause us to centrally process, the amount of favourable thoughts we experience versus the amount of unfavourable thoughts determines whether we ultimately accept or reject the message. If we are using peripheral processing and we experience cues that alleviate our negative affect and fulfil our emotional goal then we accept the message, if this does not happen we quickly reject the message.

Differential appraisals perspective[edit | edit source]

The differential appraisals perspective posits that the effect emotions have on processing persuasive messages is not directly due to that emotion itself, but due to the appraisal of that emotion. This came about due to mixed research with regards to how emotions such as anger, surprise and awe affect persuasion. Some studies have found that if people are angry they are more likely to process information carefully using the central route (Moons & Mackie, 2007).

Appraisal theories of emotion[edit | edit source]

Appraisal theories of emotion say that emotions can be categorised along different dimensions such as pleasantness versus unpleasantness, or confidence versus doubt (Lerner & Keltner, 2000). The research on the specific persuasive effects of each emotion is mixed, but some evidence suggests it is how we appraise these emotions that affects processing of persuasive arguments rather than the emotions directly. According to appraisal theories, surprise rates as being pleasant but doubtful, whereas anger is an unpleasant but confidence inducing emotion. Stavraki et al. (2021) conducted a series of studies with university students where either anger or surprise were primed by getting them to write about an experience where they previously felt angry or surprised. Then participants answered questions either about how they felt, emphasising the pleasantness vs unpleasantness dimension, or about how confident they were, emphasising the confidence vs doubt dimension. After answering the questions, the participants read a proposal about protocols around university exams, which was especially relevant to them as they were students, or they read some job applications by people who were applying for a fictional job that was not relevant to them. The exam proposal and the job applications contained either strong arguments or weak arguments, the idea being that if the students attitudes post experiment varied greatly depending on the strength of the argument, it could be inferred that they used a central processing route. If argument strength made little difference to how much the students were persuaded, then that would infer a peripheral, shallow processing route.

Affect heuristic[edit | edit source]

Another role emotions play in persuasion is as a simple heuristic. This is a peripheral processing shortcut where if we are given information and we feel good about it then we assume it is correct enough for our purposes. Feeling good is a signal that all is well and we do not need to expend cognitive energy critiquing an argument if there is no problem.

Self-validation hypothesis[edit | edit source]

Emotions can affect persuasion even after processing has occurred. In a series of experiments conducted by Brinol et al. (2007) participants were exposed to either strong or weak arguments and then induced to feel happy or sad by remembering past events. Unlike when the emotions were induced prior to exposure to arguments, the relative strength or weakness of an argument had a greater effect on persuasion when happiness was induced, and less of an effect when sadness was induced. This can be explained through the self-validation hypothesis, or the effect the emotion had on thought confidence. When a strong argument was presented, participants engaged in convincing thinking around that point. Then, when they felt happy, that led to confidence that their initial thinking was correct, and no further thought was required. When the initial argument was weak, participants were unconvinced, and feeling happy then led to feelings of confidence that the initial viewpoint was unconvincing. This was what led to a strong effect of argument quality when followed by happiness, and a weak effect of argument quality when followed by sadness.

Sadness, on the other hand, reduced thought confidence. When participants read the strong or the weak argument then felt sad, that led to doubt around their initial point of view

Reactance[edit | edit source]

Reactance is a phenomenon where people push back at perceived attempts to manipulate or control them (Rains, 2013). This undermines the innate need people have for autonomy (see self-determination theory). There is some debate as to whether reactance is the anger one feels when this occurs, or the generation of counter arguments; however there is some evidence supporting an intertwined model of reactance where the anger and counterarguments cannot be separated (Rains, 2013). Reactance can occur from prescriptive language such as "you must", or dismissive language such as "it is impossible to argue with" and leads to a rejection of the persuasive message.

Emotion based persuasive strategies[edit | edit source]


inverted U curve

Rebound effects

(Dilliard et al., 2017) (Shen, 2017)


(Walter et al., 2019)

Case studies[edit | edit source]

Can emotion influence persuasion on climate change?[edit | edit source]

Lu and Schuldt (2015) conducted an experiment on whether incidental emotions can affect attitudes towards climate change. 719 U.S. adults were recruited and assigned to either an anger, guilt or control group. They then did a writing exercise where they wrote about a time from their past that elicited the desired emotion. Participants then read an article about negative consequences of climate change and afterwards, completed a questionnaire about how likely they would be to support climate change policies that primarily targeted individuals and policies that primarily targeted companies. Participants also completed a questionnaire about how willing they would be to personally adopt a self punishing behavior (paying a 5% higher bill for electricity sourced renewably) or adopting industry punishing behavior (boycotting products from offending companies).

Emotion in advertising and attitude change[edit | edit source]

A study by Hamelin et al. (2017) looked at the effect of emotion in advertising around safe driving. Some participants were shown a highly emotional advertisement supporting safer driving, involving a graphic scene of a car crash and footage of affected loved ones. Other participants were shown a low emotion advertisement consisting of information like speeds of travelling cars and the forces accidents involve. Researchers used a slow motion camera and facial recognition software to assess the facial expressions of participants to read their emotions in response to the two advertisements which confirmed participants in the high emotion group were much more emotionally engaged. Two weeks later their driving attitudes were assessed and it was found the group where strong emotions were elicited had significantly more safety conscious attitudes around driving than the low emotion group showing that they were persuaded much more successfully. This research is consistent with the cognitive functional model where the emotion instigated by the message caused greater attention and message acceptance.

How can we be more persuasive?[edit | edit source]

Factors that increase the likelihood of systematic processing (Chaiken & Ledgerwood, 2011)

  • high personal relevance
  • if there are important consequences
  • being solely responsible for the interpretation of the message
  • being told that the majority opinion is different to yours

Avoid triggering reactance

Tell people the problem and why it affects them, then give them the solution

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Emotions have evolved to allow us to react adaptively to significant life events. When faced with a persuasive message, we can either process the arguments deeply using the central or systematic route, or shallowly using the peripheral, heuristic route. Our brains do to not want to expend cognitive resources if it is not required, and our emotions serve the role of guiding our attention adaptively to process only what we need to help us progress.

See also[edit | edit source]

Persuasion (Wikipedia)

References[edit | edit source]

Briñol, P., Petty, R. E., & Barden, J. (2007). Happiness versus sadness as a determinant of thought confidence in persuasion: a self-validation analysis. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 93(5), 711.

Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., & Petty, R. E. (2018). The neuroscience of persuasion: A review with an emphasis on issues and opportunities. Social neuroscience, 13(2), 129-172.

Chaiken, S., & Ledgerwood, A. (2011). A theory of heuristic and systematic information processing. Handbook of theories of social psychology: Volume one, 246-166.

Dillard, J. P., Li, R., & Huang, Y. (2017). Threat appeals: the fear–persuasion relationship is linear and curvilinear. Health communication, 32(11), 1358-1367.

Hamelin, N., El Moujahid, O., & Thaichon, P. (2017). Emotion and advertising effectiveness: A novel facial expression analysis approach. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 36, 103-111.

Hullett, C. R. (2005). The impact of mood on persuasion: A meta-analysis. Communication Research, 32(4), 423-442.

Keltner, D., Sauter, D., Tracy, J., & Cowen, A. (2019). Emotional expression: Advances in basic emotion theory. Journal of nonverbal behavior, 1-28.

Keltner, D., Tracy, J. L., Sauter, D., & Cowen, A. (2019). What basic emotion theory really says for the twenty-first century study of emotion. Journal of nonverbal behavior, 43(2), 195-201.

Kitchen, P. J., Kerr, G., Schultz, D. E., McColl, R., & Pals, H. (2014). The elaboration likelihood model: review, critique and research agenda. European Journal of Marketing.

Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2000). Beyond valence: Toward a model of emotion-specific influences on judgement and choice. Cognition & emotion, 14(4), 473-493.

Lu, H., & Schuldt, J. P. (2015). Exploring the role of incidental emotions in support for climate change policy. Climatic Change, 131(4), 719-726.

Mitchell, M., Brown, K., Morris-Villagran, M., & Villagran, P. (2001). The effects of anger, sadness and happiness on persuasive message processing: A test of the negative state relief model. Communication Monographs, 68(4), 347-359.

Moons, W. G., & Mackie, D. M. (2007). Thinking Straight While Seeing Red: The Influence of Anger on Information Processing. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(5), 706–720.

Nabi, R. L. (1999). A cognitive‐functional model for the effects of discrete negative emotions on information processing, attitude change, and recall. Communication theory, 9(3), 292-320.

Nabi, R. (2002). Anger, fear, uncertainty, and attitudes: A test of the cognitive-functional model. Communication Monographs, 69(3), 204-216.

Rains, S. A. (2013). The nature of psychological reactance revisited: A meta-analytic review. Human Communication Research, 39(1), 47-73.

Reser, J. P., & Bradley, G. L. (2017). Fear appeals in climate change communication. In Oxford research encyclopedia of climate science.

Shen, L. (2017). Putting the fear back again (and within individuals): Revisiting the role of fear in persuasion. Health communication, 32(11), 1331-1341.

Stavraki, M., Lamprinakos, G., Briñol, P., Petty, R. E., Karantinou, K., & Díaz, D. (2021). The influence of emotions on information processing and persuasion: A differential appraisals perspective. Journal of experimental social psychology, 93, 104085.

Walter, N., Tukachinsky, R., Pelled, A., & Nabi, R. (2019). Meta-analysis of anger and persuasion: An empirical integration of four models. Journal of Communication, 69(1), 73-93.

External links[edit | edit source]

The counterintuitive way to be more persuasive (Ted)