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“The orator persuades by means of his hearers, when they are roused to emotion by his speech; for the judgments we deliver are not the same when we are influenced by joy or sorrow, love or hate.” – Aristotle
Can you think of a time when you believed something to be true, but in hindsight, you recognize that your mood or emotional state at the time had a strong impact on this belief?
Maybe you were in a really bad mood one day and got mad at your partner, which led you to second guess if the relationship was right for you. But, a few days later once things had calmed down, you realized you were just upset and you weren’t really starting to believe that you wanted to break up.
We can be quick to conform our beliefs to align with our emotions because we often consider our feelings to be sufficient evidence that anything is true. This means that when our emotions and beliefs are in sync, we feel validated.
You may be able to relate to the findings of this study on life satisfaction, in which participants were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their lives. Calls were either made on the first warm and sunny day of springtime, which put most people in a good mood, or on a cold and rainy day when the majority of the population felt ‘blah’.
The researchers found that people’s moods impacted their beliefs about the quality of their lives, leading the researchers to conclude that people’s emotions had a direct impact on their beliefs about their life at that time.
With this in mind, you can probably see how easy it is for people to change what they believe depending on their mood, which is why using an appeal to emotion fallacy can be an effective tactic to influence others’ beliefs.
In this article, we are going to define this logical fallacy in more detail and then look at 9 examples that can help you spot an appeal to emotion in your everyday life.
What Is an Appeal to Emotion?
An appeal to emotion is a type of logical fallacy that attempts to provoke someone’s feelings in an effort to make them believe something or incite a change in their behavior. This type of appeal is fallacious when the audience’s emotions take the place of their ability to reason, leading to unsound beliefs or actions.
An appeal to emotion takes on the following form:
Claim→ Emotional Appeal→ Request for Action
You’ll notice that evidence is not presented, which means the audience isn’t given a chance to think logically.
Another indication of an emotional appeal takes this form:
This claim is true. Think of how awful you’ll feel if it isn’t true. Or: This claim is true. Think about how happy you’ll be if it’s true.
These statements have the listener only considering their future emotions to determine their belief about the statement.
Now, referring to emotions or the moral idea of right and wrong when arguing for a claim or course of action doesn’t automatically mean an appeal to emotion has occurred in a fallacious way. An emotional appeal is only misused when the speaker is attempting to persuade someone by using emotions as the only basis for their argument, which can be done to either intentionally mislead people or to disguise a weak argument.
Let’s look at the difference between when an appeal to emotion is a constructive tool to use versus when it’s used improperly.
When used correctly, this type of appeal:
When used fallaciously, emotional appeals:
Let’s take a look at some specific examples of appeals to emotion so you can spot this logical fallacy in your everyday life and avoid using it yourself.
9 Appeal to Emotion Logical Fallacy Examples
1. “There are objective rights and wrongs in the world. If not, how could anyone make the claim that hurting animals for fun would ever be right?”
This argument is worded in a way that connects its conclusion of objective morality with the idea that hurting animals for fun is wrong, which implies that morality consists of universal rights and wrongs. While social norms set widely accepted parameters for what’s right and wrong (or “good” and “bad”), the final say for everyone’s individual opinion lies within their own mind.
Rational thinking influences our moral decisions, but these decisions are also largely influenced by fleeting emotions such as fear, admiration, and jealousy.
Most people would agree that the idea of hurting animals for fun elicits undesirable thoughts and feelings. However, despite how anyone may feel about this particular action, our emotions aren’t a logical substitute for an unbiased reason that explains why the act is terrible.
The truth is, research shows that people who abuse animals are five times more likely than others to engage in violent criminal behavior toward people. This truth shows why hurting animals is “wrong” more so than the fact that the idea of this makes you feel sad.
2. In Advertising
A commercial for a real estate company portraying a happy family with young children moving into what appears to be the home of their dreams is an example of using an appeal to emotions to persuade people to buy a product or service.
The purpose here is to make viewers want to experience the same feelings that the family in the commercial is displaying. The implied argument is that if you use this real estate agency, you can move into your dream house and be as happy as this family.
However, what this argument lacks is any hard evidence that this agency’s services are any more valuable than the services of any other real estate agency. Moreover, it’s impossible to determine the family’s actual level of life satisfaction or the reason behind their feelings just by seeing a short video clip of them on moving day.
So, will working with this real estate agency ultimately make you happy? I don’t know. But, after watching this commercial, neither do you.
3. Eliciting Fear
Fear is a very motivating emotion. And if someone wants to convince others to believe something, using a fear tactic can be very effective. Consider the following example:
“Just as we were successful in defeating communism in Southeast Asia without having to bring combat back into the U.S., we can do the same in our fight against terrorism in Afghanistan to avoid having to bring violence back to our own turf.”
The vast majority of people would be scared of the thought of having a war going on in our own country, which means they would likely take any necessary action or adopt a determined belief in order to prevent that from happening.
You probably see ads on television for disaster relief organizations asking for monetary donations for a recent catastrophe or to help with a project they’re working on at the time. Strategically, viewers aren’t shown statistics or numbers crawling across their screens offering logical reasons as to why their donations are needed. Rather, viewers are offered pictures of destroyed neighborhoods from a recent tornado or children huddling in a shelter who have been left homeless as a result of widely spread wildfires.
The people behind these ads know that viewers are more likely to respond to emotional appeals than a valid reason why they need donations (i.e. a statement saying that Capital City needs money to purchase more medical supplies for its residents).
But the truth is, there may end up being no connection between your donation and the child you saw wrapped up in a blanket in the shelter. And while your donation may go to help some similar children as the ones you saw in the ad, it may also help pay for more fundraising, or help cover payroll for the employees of the charity.
In cases like this, what’s missing is a statement revealing the direct connection between the action that’s being sparked by an emotional appeal and the circumstances that lead to the emotion in the first place. If a charity simply arouses your emotions, you haven’t been given a good reason to open your wallet. You still need a good reason to believe that the action you’re taking will make the difference that’s being implied.
5. Political Claims
Politicians appeal to voters’ emotions because it’s an easy way to impact the greatest number of people with one statement. A politician could talk about the potential negative implications of a policy, and some people could feel like they’re not personally affected by anything mentioned.
However, let’s say the politician said, “My opponent’s plan to cut spending will negatively impact your mother or grandmother who depend on social security to have money to live.”
This statement will resonate with many people in a very emotional way–certainly more than, “cutting spending will increase intergovernmental competition for revenues.” The politician likely chose this particular point because of its emotional appeal, but he left out any evidence of proof that cutting spending would have a direct impact on your mom’s life.
6. Think About the Starving Children!
If you think back to your childhood, you may remember being on the receiving end of this statement after refusing to eat your peas (or whatever vegetable you were served at the time).
As an adult, you realize that your parents were trying to get you to eat healthy foods so your body got the nutrition it needed. But that probably wouldn’t be a compelling argument for an 8-year-old faced with a plate full of chlorophyll-laden atrocities.
However, seeing as children can relate to other children more so than they appreciate the importance of eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals, this appeal to emotion may be effective, but it’s also fallacious. It’s not logical to argue that the amount of food anyone eats at a meal has any sort of impact on a child half-way around the world.
7. Political Campaigns
You’ve probably noticed your city’s politicians or the governor of your state making appearances at charity events and various other occasions around town where a lot of people are in attendance. You may also recognize that the politicians don’t shy away from the camera in such situations.
Politicians want citizens to see them doing good things for the community and attending community events to demonstrate that they care about the well-being of the community that they wish to serve (or are currently serving). They do this so citizens will feel a connection to them and believe that they truly care about the people and local systems that are set in place. However, if these “appearances” aren’t backed up with evidence that the politician will, in fact, benefit the community, the appeal is fallacious.
8. “I’m sorry officer, my family is very poor and I haven’t eaten in days. If I hadn’t stolen this muffin from the grocery store, I’m scared I would have starved. Anyone in my position would have done the same thing.”
In this instance, a child is trying to make the argument that her stealing is only “wrong” in the eyes of the officer because he is not in her position. She’s appealing to the officer’s emotions by making him feel sad for her and uncomfortable in her presence suggesting that she’s doing something objectively wrong when he has never had to go hungry like that.
Of course, the officer likely wishes that the little girl’s family wasn’t poor and she had a welcoming home with three hot meals per day. With this in mind, the officer is then left to compromise his belief that stealing is wrong. And, if he holds onto this belief, he will probably feel like a jerk for not letting this little girl have something to eat.
This is a very sad scenario, but it still illustrates that there are no facts or evidence present to support the claim that “right” and “wrong” don’t exist.
9. A politician claims, “The US Military needs to be eliminated. I just met a widowed mother of four whose husband recently died overseas. As she was crying, she said to me, “Please stop this violence.” Vote for me and I will eradicate this system that’s costing thousands of Americans their lives.”
The politician is claiming that the military needs to be eliminated. He is trying to gain supporters by appealing to their emotions, knowing that no one is happy to hear about this mother losing her husband and her four children losing their father.
The politician asks for his listeners’ votes so he can stop further pain and loss. However, he didn’t offer any facts or evidence to support his claim that he can actually make this happen.
Appealing to emotions is a powerful technique in persuasion, and can often be necessary when it’s coupled with facts or objective evidence. People are emotional creatures, and it’s not uncommon to form beliefs to take certain actions based on our feelings, even if our sense of logic is telling us otherwise.
Knowing how to spot an appeal to emotion will help you avoid falling into its trap because you’ll be keeping an ear out for evidence. And, when you’re presenting an argument, you can be sure to never replace facts with an emotional appeal, but rather use the two together to gain the greatest amount of followers.
More Examples of Logical Fallacies
- 5 Appeal to Nature Fallacy Examples in Media and Life
- 6 Outcome Bias Examples That Can Negatively Impact Your Decisions
- 7 Self-Serving Bias Examples You See Throughout Life
- 7 Omission Bias Examples That Negatively Impact Your Life
- 6 Authority Bias Examples That Might Impact Your Decisions
- 5 Burden of Proof Fallacy Examples
- 5 Appeal to Tradition Fallacy Examples in Life
- 5 Appeal to Authority Logical Fallacy Examples
- 7 False Cause Fallacy Examples
- 7 Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy Examples
- 7 Appeal to Common Sense Logical Fallacy Examples
- 5 Post Hoc Fallacy Examples (and How to Respond to This Argument)
- Gambler’s Fallacy: 5 Examples and How to Avoid It
- 5 Appeal to Anger Fallacy Examples Throughout Life
- 7 Halo Effect Bias Examples in Your Daily Life
- 7 Poisoning the Well Examples Throughout Your Life
- 7 Survivorship Bias Examples You See in the Real World
- 7 Dunning Kruger Effect Examples in Your Life
- 7 Either Or (“False Dilemma”) Fallacy Examples in Real Life
- 5 Cui Bono Fallacy Examples to Find Out “Who Will Benefit”
- 6 Anchoring Bias Examples That Impact Your Decisions
- 7 Virtue Signaling Examples in Everyday Life
- 7 Cherry Picking Fallacy Examples for When People Ignore Evidence
- 9 Circular Reasoning Examples (or “Begging the Question”) in Everyday Life
- 9 Appeal to Pity Fallacy (“Ad Misericordiam”) Examples in Everyday Life
- 9 Loaded Question Fallacy Examples in Life and Media
- 9 Confirmation Bias Fallacy Examples In Everyday Life
- 9 Bandwagon Fallacy Examples to Prevent Poor Decisions
- 5 Red Herring Fallacy Examples to Fight Irrelevant Information
- 9 Middle Ground Fallacy Examples to Spot During an Argument
- 5 False Equivalence Examples to Know Before Your Next Argument
- 7 Hasty Generalization Fallacy Examples & How to Respond to Them
- 6 Straw Man Fallacy Examples & How You Can Respond
- 6 False Dichotomy Examples & How to Counter Them
- 7 Slippery Slope Fallacy Examples (And How to Counter Them)
- What is the Planning Fallacy?
- How to Overcome the “Sunk Cost Fallacy” Mindset
Finally, if you want a simple process to counter the logical fallacies and cognitive biases you encounter in life, then follow this 7-step process to develop the critical thinking skills habit.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.