Appealing to Instincts and Emotions

Leaders can often win support by appealing to instincts and emotions; compelling visions and strong personalities are both effective.

As noted in the previous sub-section (, only a few people are susceptible to reasoned arguments.  Many people, though, can be persuaded by appealing to their instincts, emotions and moral values:

●  They can be enticed by a vision of an attractive future – as in, for example, a description of Heaven. This is a technique used by populist politicians to capitalise on people’s discontent with their current circumstances, as described later (6.7.8).

●  They can also be made fearful by a vision of future pain and insecurity. Descriptions of Hell fall into this category.

●  People’s empathy can be used to attract support to a cause. The news that New Figures Reveal More Than Half of Children in Somalia Now Facing Malnutrition was a message designed to attract charitable donations, for example.

●  Believable narratives can elicit an empathetic response by appealing to instincts and emotions. Parables help people to imagine how they might feel in the situation being described, so they understand a message without having to follow a reasoned argument.  This is why Jesus often spoke in parables.

●  People can be attracted to the personality and perceived power of someone who is a potential leader. It is natural to support someone who appears to know what they are doing and to be capable of making it happen.

●  As described earlier, people feel an affinity for their own cultural group. They are likely to support someone who argues that the group is threatened in some way and who offers to defend it.

These appeals can arouse passion – to the extent of making people deaf to reasoned argument in some cases.  People like a comforting message to believe in, rather than one that is factual but uncomfortable.  And, as noted later (, there is so much ‘fake news’ circulating that people can choose what arguments to listen to.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4313b.htm.