4.3.1.3 Appealing to People’s Instincts and Emotions

As noted in the previous sub-section (4.3.1.2), 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.
  • 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. Images or stories of suffering children, for example, can be used to attract charitable donations or to garner support for State provision of welfare benefits.
  • Believable narratives can elicit an empathetic response. 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.
  • Insecurity and status anxiety arouse powerful emotions, as described in Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents: “downward social mobility was a constant fear” (p. 167). People whose jobs are threatened, for example, are likely to believe a politician who offers to solve all their problems.  They are also easily lured into believing conspiracy theories – which provide them with someone to blame, as described later (6.4.2.7).

These appeals can arouse passion – to the extent of making people deaf to reasoned argument in some cases.

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4313a.htm.