Emotional Appeal: Definition & Examples Video

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  • 0:01 Using Emotional Appeals
  • 1:01 Creating Emotional Appeal
  • 2:34 Fallacious or Relevant?
  • 3:27 Pathos, Logos & Ethos
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
Find out what emotional appeals are and how they can make your writing more persuasive in this lesson. Learn how to create emotional appeals and why it's important to combine them with other persuasive techniques.

Using Emotional Appeals

An emotional appeal is a method of persuasion that's designed to create an emotional response. Emotion (also known as pathos or suffering in Greek) is one of the three modes of persuasion identified by Aristotle. The other two are logos, or logic, and ethos, or authority. Emotional appeals are considered fallacies, or errors in reasoning, because they manipulate emotions in an audience.

Emotional appeals are especially prevalent in advertising. When fashion magazines play on our insecurities about body image, they're using emotional appeals. When political ads play on our fears, telling us that voting for someone will lead to financial ruin or wars, they're using emotional appeals. Students frequently use emotional appeals on their professors, hoping for pity as they ask for more time to finish a paper. Emotional appeals are used in courtrooms during trials and in persuasive essays to increase the effectiveness of arguments.

Creating Emotional Appeal

Using anecdotes, metaphors and similes, as well as descriptive language, is a common way of composing emotional appeals. Let's look at how these devices can create emotional appeal in persuasive writing, a form of writing in which an author tries to convince readers that his or her opinion on an issue is right.

An anecdote is a short story that illustrates a point. Keeping in mind the emotion he or she wants to create in a reader, a writer might utilize an anecdote that describes a best or worst case scenario. Or, the writer might place the audience in the story in a hypothetical circumstance, and then maximize the emotional content with descriptive detail. If the writer's goal is to inspire action, he or she might include a list of painful reminders of past incidents.

Metaphors and similes also are useful when creating emotional appeals. A metaphor helps make connections without being direct; it creates a comparison between two dissimilar things by stating that they're the same. For example, a lawyer might appeal to jurors' sense of doubt by referring to a defendant's alibi as a 'red herring.' Or, a political ad might reference an incumbent's failed attempts at effective legislation as 'writing a blank check.'

In contrast, a simile is a comparison using 'like' or 'as.' For example, a fashion magazine might promise that using a certain type of make-up will make the reader 'as pretty as a picture.' Or, a student might plead with a professor for an extension on a paper because his workload has him 'as tired as a dog.'

Fallacious or Relevant?

As noted previously, emotional appeals are generally considered fallacious because feelings are not evidence. However, if a direct connection between emotion and facts is made, then the emotional appeal is considered relevant. For example, a TV ad showing victims of a very recent hurricane might include a request for money or supplies. There's a clear connection between the pity you feel for the people and the facts presented, so it is a relevant, or reasonable, emotional appeal.

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