It turns out that humans are hardwired to use emotion when trying to persuade another person. A new study shows that people automatically switch to emotional language as a way to be more appealing and persuasive, even when such tactics could backfire.
The study was conducted by researchers from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and published in the journal Psychological Science.
The researchers set out to examine how we communicate with others when we are purposely looking to persuade.
“Beyond simply becoming more positive or negative, people spontaneously shift toward using more emotional language when trying to persuade,” said Matthew D. Rocklage, the lead author of the study.
Replacing “excellent” with “exciting” or “thrilling” would be an example of using more emotional language.
For one experiment, 1,285 participants were asked to write a five-star review of a product from Amazon. Some of the participants were told to persuade people into buying the product and others were directed to just write about the positive aspects of the product.
The researchers applied the Evaluative Lexicon, a tool used for linguistic analysis, to the written reviews which showed how emotional, positive, and extreme the reviews were.
When trying to persuade someone to buy a product, the reviews used more emotional language compared to reviews that simply pointed out features. All of the reviews were positive, but there was a definite difference in emotion between the persuasive reviews and the non-persuasive ones.
One group of participants were asked to write a persuasive review and simultaneously remember an eight-digit number. Even when multi-tasking, the writers used emotional language, which suggests that it’s a subconscious or automatic reaction to being persuasive.
However, this can be a problematic strategy because not all audiences respond to emotional language. If we automatically resort to emotional language no matter the situation, it could potentially backfire in certain scenarios.
Next, the researchers will examine if the use of emotional language changes depending on the environment.
“For instance, would people use less emotion if they were in a boardroom meeting or if they were writing a formal letter of recommendation?” Asked Rocklage.