Psychology and persuasion is a hot field of study, especially in modern times with ads to influence and promote people to buy things, but also in the recent past with Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels to use propaganda to manipulate the minds of the masses. Social engineering is as important now if not more than it was then. Making a persuasive message is big part of business and social dynamics.
We're always being influenced, and we do some influencing as well. Changing people's mind is hard to do. Psychology is very complex, and persuasion can be looked at as an art of sorts. Ineffective methods to change someone's mind can backfire. When we intend to persuade others it can be seen in how we communicate.
By default, we're prone to using our intuitive emotional language to get an 'in' to someone's psyche and enhance our powers of persuasion. Advertisers, marketers, politicians and religious leaders effectively make use of this emotional mind control to convince people to accept or do something. Emotional appeals are used by everyone though in order to try to win people over. But sometimes those appeals are flawed are the desired goal backfires.
Does our desire to get someone to accept something we want them to accept have us use more emotional appeal or become more emotional with our words? It seems so, as researchers have demonstrated in a study published earlier this year in Psychological Science.
People be positive or negative in trying to persuade others, but they also move to more emotional appeals even when someone or a group isn't receptive to the language. Many persist in their emotional language, and it backfires on them. Positive words like excellent or outstanding can make people feel good, and some words are more emotional to convey emotions, like exciting and thrilling.
Sometimes keeping emotions out of it might work better, as researcher Matthew D. Rocklage of The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University says:
It's possible that to be seen as rational and reasonable, people might remove emotion from their language when attempting to persuade.
But that isn't what most people do, since we're more prone to be affected and influenced with emotional language. We recognize the pull of emotional language ourselves in the social sphere, and use it ourselves to try to get what we want.
Participants in an online study were shown a photo and some details about a product on Amazon. Some were asked to write a 5 star review to persuade others to buy the product, while others were asked to write a 5 star review describing the positive features. Researchers used the Evaluative Lexicon to measure the use of emotional language in those reviews.
Both groups made positive reviews, but those who tried to persuade others to buy a product used more emotional language, compared to those who only wrote about the positives without intending to get others to buy it. The intention to persuade automatically brought out more emotional language. Researchers say it was deliberate.
Now, when someone or a group of people are more rational, one might expect a similar approach to be taken. But we're still prone to use more emotional language to persuade rational thinkers, and this most often backfires:
Past research indicates that emotional appeals can backfire when an audience prefers unemotional appeals. Our findings indicate that there is a strong enough connection between persuasion and emotion in people's minds that they continue to use emotion even in the face of an audience where that approach can backfire.
The link between motion and persuasion is detectable and gets ingrained in our memory. Emotional language is readily associated with persuasion. Those who are more rational in thinking might recognize this connection and be less likely to accept a message once they see it. Using more emotional language might come off as an attempt to manipulate them, rather than simply stating things in a factual manner. For most people though, I think the emotional language works and the thought of being manipulated goes over their head.
Are you more or less influenced when emotional language is used? I tend to be less affected. I can care and recognize something as wrong because of its affect. But I also discern how people can be negatively affected without anything wrong being done to them. When people are too attached to something, they might not like hearing the truth of a matter, and they might try to make it seem like you wronged them, when all you did was tell them something they didn't want to hear.
Making people feel-good through emotional language is a way to get them to accept something, even if they wouldn't normally accept it. Emotions are powerful, and we're being manipulated in society because we want to feel-good. We don't want to hear about negatives that make us look bad, negatives or wrongs we are individually or collectively partaking in. We're being played like puppets on many levels without realizing it.
- People use emotion to persuade, even when it could backfire
- Matthew D. Rocklage et al, Persuasion, Emotion, and Language: The Intent to Persuade Transforms Language via Emotionality, Psychological Science (2018). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617744797
- Evaluative Lexicon
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