Emotional Appeals and Persuasion

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Emotional appeals may activate deep seated beliefs through appeals to values such as:

  1. Sense of family (Eg. ‘This is family-friendly’, ‘Our families are under fire!’)
  2. Sense of justice and fair play (Eg. Language such as ‘rights’, ‘fair go’, ‘Aussie Battlers’)
  3. Sense of pride, identity and belonging (Eg. National pride, Gay Pride, pride in one’s team etc)
  4. Sense of tradition and the familiar (Eg. Anzac Day Parade; ‘We mustn’t change’)
  5. Sense of decency, etiquette, manners and decorum (Eg. Language like, ‘Imagine behaving like that!’ ‘It’s the decent thing to do!’)
  6. Sense of duty and obligation (Eg. Language like, ‘We owe it to our children to…’)
  7. Sense of entitlement and privilege (Eg. Language like, ‘We’ve worked hard for…’)
  8. Sense of respect and honour (Eg. ‘The young ones have no respect!’ ‘What a hero!’)
  9. Sense of security and safety (Eg. ‘If this goes ahead, nobody will be secure!’)
  10. Sense of compassion and mercy (Eg. ‘What terrible suffering!’ ‘I forgive…’)
  11. Sense of the common bond of humanity, Brotherhood and Sisterhood (Eg. ‘Together, we shall rebuild!’ ‘We women/men must ensure that…’ )

Persuasive and evocative language can access primal emotions such as:

  1. Fear and anxiety (Warning people of reasonable, potential threats can motivate action but fear mongering is deliberate, unreasonable and extreme playing on fear to manipulate or to sensationalise.)
  2. Guilt and shame
  3. Anger
  4. Desire for power

Social change can threaten values held by individuals and groups, generating powerful feelings of fear or outrage. This response may be subtly manipulated by writers using language with connotations or cultural allusions or more blatantly stirred up by inflammatory or emotive language. Personal attacks of people opposed to the writer’s position are known as attacking the opposition and may include mockery, sarcasm, pejorative statements, name calling or mudslinging (comments or narratives which bring up someone’s alleged negative personal history). Commentary which is critical of those resisting change may include phrases like ‘sacred cow’.

When such powerful emotions are evoked, they can generate irrational responses from members of the public and ‘knee jerk’ reactions by policy makers. This may be just the outcome a writer desires. On the other hand, it may be an unintended result.

Consider this adage: *“The pen is mightier than the sword.”*

Words are powerful and should be governed well.

*This version of the adage originated from Cardinal Richelieu’s speech in Act II, Scene II of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 play script, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy.*