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How Emotion Influences Attitudes and Persuasion

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  • 0:06 Emotions & Persuading…
  • 0:46 Persuasion & Types of Attitude
  • 2:56 Emotions as Heuristics
  • 5:10 Fear Appeals
  • 7:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
Emotions can be used to induce attitude change in a number of ways. In this lesson, we discuss how they can be used within persuasive communication to illicit both short-term and long-term attitude change.

Emotions & Persuading Attitude Change

Emotion is sometimes the driving force behind our attitudes and behavior. As such, emotion plays a major role in how other people influence us and can be the determining factor in attempts to persuade us to change our attitudes and behavior. Advertisements, campaigns, speeches, and other persuasive communication frequently try to appeal to our emotions because of this. In this lesson, we will discuss when these emotional appeals are most likely to be successful, and also a couple of specific strategies that are used to try and change our attitudes.

Persuasion & Types of Attitude

First, the success of persuasion can depend on the type of attitude someone is trying to change. In another lesson, we discuss the fact that attitudes can be based on facts about the attitude object, cognitively-based attitudes, and others can be based on emotions and values, affectively-based attitudes.

Research has shown that it is best to try and change an attitude in a way that is complimentary to the type of attitude. In other words, a cognitively-based attitude would be most likely to be changed through the central route to persuasion, which uses logical arguments. An affectively-based attitude would be most likely to be changed through the peripheral route to persuasion, which uses surface characteristics to trigger mental shortcuts, such as emotions.

For example, imagine you are shopping for a scarf. You browse through a display with several options, and finally choose one with a checkered design. A saleswoman walks up and tries to convince you to buy the striped one, instead. What do you think she would have to say to convince you to switch? According to the research we just discussed, it would depend on your attitude towards the checkered scarf, your reason for choosing that one.

If you had a cognitively-based attitude, say, you like that scarf the best simply because you believe it to be the warmest, the saleswoman would be the most successful by presenting a compelling argument. If she was able to demonstrate that the striped scarf is even warmer than the checkered, for example, you may change your attitude and decision.

On the other hand, if you had an affectively-based attitude, say, you like that scarf the best because the pattern reminds you of your favorite aunt, the saleswoman would be the most successful by appealing to your emotions. If she showed you a picture of your favorite actress wearing the striped scarf, for example, you may change your attitude and decision.

Emotions as Heuristics

This leads us into our next point. As previously mentioned, the peripheral route to persuasion uses surface characteristics to trigger heuristics, or mental shortcuts. Emotions sometimes act as heuristics, helping us to quickly determine our attitude.

For example, imagine you are listening to a debate between two political candidates. It is long and boring, and you zone out for a bit. At the end, though, you are asked which candidate you like best. As you can't attest to any logical argument because you weren't listening, you would probably use the 'how do I feel?' heuristic. This is an emotional mental shortcut we frequently use to determine our attitude without having to spend a lot of time analyzing the situation. You think of each candidate and feel better about the second one, so decide you must like him better.

The tricky thing about using emotional heuristics is that sometimes we are wrong about why we feel good or bad. In the case of the two political candidates, it's possible that when you were thinking about the second one, you were unaware of being exposed to positive stimuli. It's possible that, unbeknownst to you, you smelled some chocolate at the same time that you were thinking about the second candidate, and you mistakenly attributed your happy feelings to him.

Those who frequently use persuasive communication, such as politicians and advertisers, know that if we feel good in the presence of an attitude object, we often determine that we like it, even if those good feelings were caused by something else. This is why advertisers and retailers want to create good feelings when we are looking at their products. They try to appeal to our senses, with popular music, good smells, etc., in the hope that we will attribute some of our good feelings to the product they are trying to sell. If that does the trick, they will have succeeded in their persuasive communication.

Fear Appeals

Public service ads commonly use fear appeals to encourage behavior change.
Fear Appeal Example

The last link between emotion and persuasion and attitude change we'll discuss in this lesson is the popular use of fear appeals. A fear appeal is a type of persuasive message that attempts to change a person's attitude by invoking fear. Public service ads frequently use fear appeals to try and scare people into changing their attitude and behavior. For example, anti-smoking advertisements can be seen everywhere and seem to be increasingly graphic. Most are designed to scare smokers into quitting by presenting them with the worst consequences of continued smoking.

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