Affect Emotion And Persuasion English Language Essay

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Through this Literature Review, I have endeavored to explain the role which affect and emotion play in the process of persuasion. I start with a brief account of the history of persuasion, then move on to explain how emotion came to be a part of the persuasive process, the difference between similar terms such as affect, emotion and mood and what impact does each of them have on the persuasive process. I conclude by citing the future scope and two observations I made from my research on this field of study.

Rhetoric, the study of how human beings use symbols to communicate(Foss, Foss, &Trapp, 2002), is one of the oldest concepts of human communication in the Western World which dates back to the fifth century B.C(Baldwin, Perry, &Moffitt,2004). This field of study marked the advent of speech communication. A pivotal concept studied in the field of rhetoric is Persuasion. Such is the prominence of this particular phenomenon in this discipline that, in present times, the study of rhetoric is generally considered synchronous to the study of persuasive communication (Baldwin et al, 2004).Persuasion stems from the three cultures which make up the classical rhetorical theory. It all started with the sophists, a body of Greek teachers, who wrote handbooks which defined methods of producing and delivering persuasive messages. The act of sophists charging money for their services and their strong criticism by Plato "perpetuated an antisophistic sentiment" which lead to their subsequent demise. By this time (428 - 348 B.C) Plato had come to the forefront and professed the necessity of finding the absolute truth (Baldwin et al, 2004). Plato's student Aristotle constructed a philosophy which drew from the ideologies advocated by the sophists as well as Plato, providing a sort of middle ground between "completely relative" to "absolute unvarying truth".(Baldwin et al, 2004, p.78). In his masterpiece "The Rhetoric", Aristotle speaks of the three essential elements of an effective persuasive speech: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is the moral character of the speaker, pathos is taking into consideration the feelings of the audience members and logos is the accuracy of logic and argument in the speech (O'Hair , Wiemann,2009). The current literature review primarily focuses on the role of pathos in persuasive messages. But before progressing in that direction, the most fundamental question which needs to be addressed is: What is persuasion?

Persuasion and Interpersonal Influence

Persuasion, at its very core, is an attempt to influence without direct coercion (Dillard, &Pfau, 2002). Daniel O'Keefe (2002) smartly pointed out that success is considered to be ingrained in the concept of persuasion. Making a claim that "I was persuaded" means that the attempt of influence was indeed successful. This influence attempt can either be to bring in a complete change in attitude and beliefs which is inclusive of emotions and behavior of another person or to just preserve this attitudinal change (Dillard & Pfau, 2002). The early research work conducted on persuasion has primarily been with respect to a large audience setup (Miller, 1987). However, with the realization that almost 80 % of the influence attempts occur in close relationships(Dillard, Anderson, & Knobloch, 2002) the focus on research work has steered towards interpersonal influence which, as the name suggests, focuses on the persuasive message production and effects(Dillard, Anderson, & Knobloch, 2002) in interpersonal relationships.

One of the main differences which crops up between the study of rhetoric and the study of persuasion theories is the fact that research on rhetoric is primarily humanistic while persuasion takes a more social scientific bend trying to explicate the variables which enhance or inhibit the probability of success of a persuasive message (Baldwin et al 2002).

Affect, Emotion, Mood and Feelings: Same or different?

Some researchers use the terms affect emotion and mood interchangeably (Guerrero, Anderson, & Trost, 1998). Affect refers to the experience of feeling or emotion. Emotions are considered to be internal and have a primary focus on affect. Moods are longer lasting feelings (which are not as concrete and specific as emotions (Clore, Shwartz, &Conway, 1994; Frijda, 1986 in Guerrero et al., 1998). However in order to have a better understanding of each of their roles in persuasive communication, a proper delineation of these terms is necessary. We first account for affect and then we move on to emotions, describing the origin and structure of each.


Affect refers to the experience of feeling or emotion. There have been two contesting views on the origin or source of affect. Studies conducted by Dillard and Wilson (1993) explicated the "message irrelevant affect" where the affect itself bears no logical relationship to the content of the message, it has nothing to do with the message whatsoever (Dillard, & Pfau,2002). This type of affect takes into account the emotional state existing prior to the reception of a persuasive message which has a significant impact on the message processing by an individual (Anderson, & Guerrero, 1998). The other view on the source of affect, the "message induced affect" (Dillard, &Wilson, 1993) is one where affect is considered a part and parcel of the message evaluation, when messages are designed in a way to evoke certain emotions and feelings which serve as the basis of acceptance of the advocacy(Dillard,& Pfau,2002). Dillard and Wilson (1993) refer to it as "direct effect" as the emotion occurs in direct response to a given message (Jorgenson, 1998, p.406). After the persuasive message has been disseminated, the audience member processes the information in different ways depending on factors such as the message features and audience member's emotional and affective state. The Message Relevant and Message Irrelevant Models help us understand how certain message characteristics and the source of affect influence the way receivers process the message.

Message Relevant Models.

There are two models under this category- The Elaboration Likelihood Model and the Heuristic Systematic Model.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion is an approach developed by Richard Petty, John Cacioppo and their associates (1986a, 1986b) which postulates that there can be two different routes to persuasion depending on the extent to which the argument is elaborated, by the central route or by the peripheral route. The central route is when the receiver of the message weighs the argumentative quality of the message and processes the message using sound logic and reason whereas peripheral route is when the receiver of the message uses cues such as mood (Jorgenson, 1998) to react to the persuasive message. When the receiver's motivation is low and is unable to judge the cognitive aspects of the message, i.e., he/she performs low elaboration of the message. The receiver is generally guided by simpler heuristic principles such as credibility, liking, and consensus (O Keefe, 2002). On the other hand, during extensive elaboration, the content of the message takes predominance over the peripheral cues. Jorgensen (1998) argues that emotional appeals are more effective as persuasive tools during low elaboration and even brings about attitude change in the receiver, however based on previous researches it was found out that such attitude change is more fleeting than those brought about by the central route processing.

The Heuristic Systematic Processing model is also used to explain the message processing methods used by receivers of persuasive messages. According to this model, there are two ways by which a receiver will judge a message, either by Systematic processing or by Heuristic Processing. Dillard and Peck (2000) in their article on evaluation of public service announcements succinctly describe both approaches in this model with reference to how the audience perceives the persuasive health campaign messages. They state that systematic processing is contemplative analytic and responsive to the argumentative quality of the message while heuristic processing involves the usage of shortcut decision making rules called heuristics to make a faster decision. Many researchers have stated that affect serves as the basis of the heuristics in heuristic reasoning. "Emotion is, perhaps, the psychological heuristic key to human survival" (Newhagen, 2002, p.735). This brings us to the question - when are these processes used? What are the reasons behind the differing elaboration of the message by the receiver? This is addressed by the message irrelevant models.

Message Irrelevant Models - Effect of Mood on Persuasion.

We have already discussed how the elaboration of a message affects the message processing by the receiver. Now, we shift our attention to the causes which govern the choices the receivers make in processing the messages. More than models, five hypotheses govern the explanation of how mood and affect has a substantial effect on message processing (Schwartz, Bless and Bohner, 1991).

As suggested by Blumenthal (2008), the Mood Regulation Hypothesis states that cognitive information processing of a persuasive message is influenced by the receiver's mood. If the receiver is in a positive mood, he is motivated to steer away from a deep analysis of the message for it might take him out of that good mood. Similarly, if someone is in a negative mood, he is more likely to evaluate the incoming stimuli more carefully. Thus positive mood involves heuristic cognitive processing of a communication message and negative mood is synchronous with the in-depth systematic processing of the message.

Motivational Hypothesis (Schwartz et al., 1991) is similar to the mood regulation hypothesis stated by Blumenthal (2008). It states that the use of peripheral or systematic processing to evaluate a message depends upon the mood of the receiver; if the person is in a certain mood, he might be predisposed to choose a certain method of message processing over another. Together with this, the motivational hypothesis also sheds light on the way the argumentative quality of the message is perceived in different emotional states. Recipients of strong arguments should be more persuaded when they are in a bad mood and conversely, recipients of weak arguments should be more persuaded when they are in a good mood. This shows that the mood plays an instrumental role in deciding the acceptance of the message as well as its argumentative quality (Jorgensen, 1998).

Cognitive Capacity Hypothesis can be considered as an extension of the motivational hypothesis. It does state that different affective states of the receiver will interfere with the information processing of the message; however it fails to clarify how under different circumstances different affective states can become hindrances (Jorgensen, 1998). This claim is elucidated by Dillard and Nabi (2006) when they posited that different emotional states can enhance or inhibit persuasive success and that under different circumstances the same emotional states may inhibit or enhance persuasive processes.

Mood As Peripheral Cue Hypothesis states that "recipient's affective state may itself serve as a peripheral cue if it becomes associated with the attitude object or source itself"(Schwartz, et al., 1991, p.162). This hypothesis is further rooted in learning theory approached to attitude change as well as mood-as-information heuristic. The former states that audience members exhibited positive attitude when coupled with positive mood and negative attitude when coupled with negative mood. The latter hypothesis states that when the audience member is faced with a complex decision making task, he/she simplifies it by using their existing affective state to come to a conclusion, thus their moods serve an "informative function" in this way.(Schwartz et al., 1991).

Mood Congruency Hypothesis specifies the two stages in which the influence of mood takes place in information processing, it is the message elaboration stage and the judgment stage but this is contingent on the fact if the judgment is being made based on the affective reaction to a previously elaborated message (Schwartz et al., 1991).

The fifth and last hypothesis stated by Schwartz and his associates is the Change In Criteria Hypothesis whose central idea is that if the receiver is in a bad mood, he/she will evaluate the persuasive message in a more stringent way than what he/she would if in a good mood. This hypothesis also goes ahead to state that once the receiver is exposed to the message, the affective state which is produced after that is the one which should be considered (Schwartz et al., 1991).

Structure of Affect

Dillard and Meijenders (2002) accounted for three models of affect .The first model is the Bipolar Valence Model. According to this model, affect should be structured as a single continuum with positive affect on one end of the spectrum and negative affect on the other. This model suggests how the pre-existing affective states have a considerable effect on how the receiver processes the message. The mood-as-information hypothesis in this regard states that positive mood or affective state of a receiver encourages heuristic message processing while negative moods elicit cognitive processing. Mood management hypothesis (Wegener, & Petty, 1996 in Dillard, & Meijnders, 2002) was formulated as a challenge to the mood as information hypothesis which states that information processing depends on the affective state of the receiver in a different way. If the receiver feels that elaborative processing of a positive message can enhance his mood, he will indulge in it.

The second model is the Two Dimensional Model. Dillard and Meijnders (2002) account for two types of two dimensional models. The first model has pleasure as one dimension and arousal as the other. "The conceptual allure of this circumplex is its ability to explain affective experience as blends of pleasure and arousal"(Reisenzein, 1994 in Dillard, &Meijnders, 2002). Empirical evidence shows that increased arousal inhibits systematic processing of messages. The second model in this category has two systems as the two dimensions. One of them, the "behavioral approach" system, facilitates "goal directed behavior". The other one, "behavioral inhibition" system discourages behavior which may lead to undesired negative results (Davidson, 1993 ;Gray,1990 in Dillard, &Meijnders, 2002, p.316).

The third and final model named the Discrete Emotion Model distinguished emotions from one another on the grounds that they are characterized by varied "systemic changes"(Dillard & Meijenders, 2002). The main function of this model is to elicit the fact that each emotion has distinct effects on a variety of persuasive outcomes (Dillard & Meijenders, 2002).


Emotion plays a major role in various forms of persuasive communication, from politics to health communication to advertisements. Even Aristotle articulated emotionality (Jorgenson, 2008, p.403) as one of the three rhetorical proofs used in persuasion (O'Hair, Wiemann, 2002). In spite of this, emotion has received very little attention in the study of persuasion. One of the reasons could be the over emphasis of logic over emotion, researchers have always treated logic as a superior dimension in the construction of persuasive messages (Jorgensen, 1998). On the other hand Seibold, Cantrill and Meyers (1985, p559) point out that most of the times emotion is taken for granted. Since emotion is so effortlessly incorporated in most of our day to day persuasive messages that researchers just assume its effectiveness in the persuasive process rather than testing its operation (Blumenthal, 2008; Dillard & Wilson, 1993) claim until the 1960s, research on emotions was negated by many of the social sciences on the grounds of it not being in accordance with the theory of logical positivism. The recognition of the importance of emotion from a communication perspective (Jorgenson, 1998) gained prominence in the 1980s (Dillard & Wilson 1993). Emotions are considered to be internal and have a primary focus on affect (Ortony, Clore, and Foss, 1987). Together with this, emotions are also thought to be specific, focused and fore grounded in consciousness (Dillard and Peck, 2000). Jorgensen (1998) posits two competing notions of studying emotions: one of them states that emotion is not an integral part of the persuasion process rather it is an offshoot of the communicative process. In this view, emotions are looked upon as inherent states of the receiver, ones which do not have any direct relation with the persuasive message. The other view suggests that emotions are an integral part of the persuasive messages and emotional appeals are explicitly used to bring in attitude change thus accomplishing the primary goal of the persuasive process.

Arousal of emotions - Appraisal Theory

This theory deals with the mechanisms of how the messages are 'appraised', i.e., evaluated and how this appraisal subsequently leads to the generation of emotions in the audience member. The appraisal theory explains the simple causal sequence through which emotions arise in the following steps: the message is produced by the speaker, perceived by the hearer and then appraised by the hearer. The receiver makes a judgment call by appraising the message against the dimension of the resultant personal harm or benefit and depending upon the extent of the judgment, an emotion arises (Dillard, Kinney, Cruz, 1996). When the state of the environment is in tandem with the goals of the receiver positive emotions are generated or else it gives rise to negative emotions (Dillard et al., 1996). A pertinent question here would be, why appeal to emotions at all? For this, we need to understand the potential of the appeal to emotions in the persuasive process.

Appeal to emotions

The meaning of appeal is to request for change. Emotional appeal is hence an appeal through emotions. Jorgenson (1998) gives an account of the five major functions of emotional appeals with respect to communication:" To serve as evidence for an argument; To heighten a source's credibility; To call attention to a message as well as to hold attention; To act as an alternative to logic; To create a mood state."(Jorgenson, 1994). All of them pivot around the overriding function of "facilitating persuasion" (Jorgenson, 1998, p.417). Through research it was realized that the effectiveness of persuasive messages in highly enhanced when the message incorporates both flawless logic as well as the effective arousal of the receiver's emotions (Arnold, 1985).

Campbell was one of the many scholars who attested the importance of emotion or the evocation of feelings in a persuasion process, "Persuasion cannot occur in the absence of passion" (Dillard and Meijnders, 2002, pg 309). Jorgenson (1998) exemplifies the importance of emotions in the communication perspective by stating that "persuasion attempts rely heavily upon the use of emotional appeals to achieve persuasive ends, and the use of emotions is an important resource in realizing these persuasive goals" (p.403). Thus understanding that emotional appeals play an important and legitimate role in the process of persuasion is an important first step for communication researchers.

Sometimes the message producers include emotional appeals in the messages, intending to arouse a certain sort of emotion in the receiver which would increase the effectiveness of the persuasive message. However, the interpretation of the message by the audience member may have three possibilities; after the receiver appraises the message, the intended emotion will be invoked in him; multiple emotions are invoked in the receiver or no emotions are evoked altogether. Thus the study of emotional appeals has been done by a trial and error method (Jorgensen, 1998) and also challenges the principle of the Cognitive Functional Model (CFM) (Nabi, 1999) to an extent. CFM states that the message producers should firstly decide which emotion they want to evoke to achieve their persuasive goals and then construct the message in a way to reflect the "core relational theme"( Lazarus 1991; Smith and Lazarus, 1993 in Dillard & Nabi, 2006, p.125) or the crux of that emotion. This model points out one of the processes of emotional arousal. Another generic way of arousing emotions is by incorporating novel stimuli in the message. It has been observed that often time prior knowledge may inhibit emotional arousal (Dillard & Nabi, 2006).

There are certain emotional appeals which evoke negative emotions in the audience member for example fear appeals in specific health campaign messages. In such messages, when the emotional arousal is followed up with effective and feasible ways to overcome the fear, this strategy is very effective in increasing the persuasiveness of the message. For example, when a commercial on AIDS elicits fear in the audience member, the next step should be to also inform the audience member about safe sex, the usage of condoms and other preventive measures which reassures the audience member as well. Understanding the structure of emotions hemps message producers construct emotional appeals are constructed in a more informed way.

Structure of Emotions

There are three ways in which emotions can be conceptualized: the discrete emotions approach, the prototype approach and the dimensional approach. The discrete emotion approach pivots around a central claim, emotions guide behavior. As the name suggests, this approach considers each emotion to be discrete and also postulates that each emotion supplies unique information characterized by distinct patterns of cognitive change (Dillard and Meijnders, 2002, p.318). This means that if each emotion has a distinct pattern of behavioral change, then these emotions should also elicit distinct effects of persuasion. In the dimensional approach (Guerrero et al., 1998) emotions are categorized according to different dimensions like valence, activity and intensity for example negative vs. positive and strong vs. weak emotions. The prototype approach offers a middle ground position between discrete emotional approach and dimensional approach by categorizing emotions by a number of characteristics like "valence, common elicitors, functions and expression" (Guerrero et al., 1998, p.19).

Future Research

There are a number of shortcomings in the field of affect, emotion and persuasion already pointed out by scholars. I provide a list of all of their observations and conclude by two personal observations I made while perusing the various articles written on this area of study.

Many scholars have already pointed out significant drawback in the study of persuasion in interpersonal relationships. They account for the little attention given to emotion as an important facet of a persuasive message. The endeavor of this elite body of researchers, however, has shown a commendable growth in research in this field in recent years. However, this attention given to emotion has been largely lopsided. Negative emotions are studied for their affect more than the positive emotions. For example, fear appeals has been broadly used as well as studied in the literary field. Guilt as a method of persuasion has also gained much popularity over the years with more and more scholars studying the affect of guilt. However, the attitude change as an effect of guilt remains unexplored till date. Also, other negative emotions such as disgust, anger and envy as well as most of the positive discrete emotions such as happiness, relief, pride and hope have received little to no attention which compared to the huge body of literary work expounded on fear as a message relevant discrete emotion (Dillard & Pfau, 2002).

There has also been a lot of criticism of the way in which emotions have been studied by scholars as well. As pointed out by Dillard (1994) and re-articulated by Dillard and Mejienders (2002) most of the persuasive work based on emotion has looked upon the effect emotions have on the persuasive process rather than focusing on how these emotions are generated in the messages .The latter was considered to be just a way of 'manipulation' as not an area worthy of scholarly research. Also Jorgenson (1998) points out that, with very few exceptions, little investigation has been done on how a desirable affective state can be produced in a receiver through the incorporation of emotions in messages.

A lot of questions have risen on the subject of the definition of emotional appeal. The debate is whether to define emotional appeal according to the emotions generated by the messages or base the definition on the message characteristics (Jorgenson, 1998). As suggested by Jorgenson (1994), even though emotional appeals are predominantly used for triggering persuasion, it is not solely limited to this. That fact that emotional appeals can also lead to "attitude formation, change and reinforcement" (Jorgensen, 1008, p.417) requires further research. As already stated, persuasive messages which were intended to evoke or appeal to a certain emotion, can also evoke multiple emotions but how these emotions are used to make up a decision in response to the persuasive message depends on the information processing of the receiver. One of the factors which can have a significant effect on the decision making is the "emotional flow" (Nabi, 2002), the order in which the emotions are evoked. Research in this area, to understand which succession of emotional flow is more conducive in eliciting desired the desired message effect, would be beneficial to the study of the influence of emotions in persuasion (Nabi, 2002). How different emotional appeals work in conjunction with other ones is a potential area of study. This will also shed some light on the ways in which certain emotional appeals work similarly and which do not so they can be smartly categorized ( Brooker,1981 in Jorgenson, 1998).

While perusing some of the articles written by noted scholars in the field of affect, emotion and persuasion, I could not help but notice two themes that was common amongst all of their work. Firstly, most of the research work studying the "mercurial" (Campbell, 1988 in Dillard & Meijnders, 2002) relationship between affect and persuasion has been done in the quantitative paradigm. Subjecting the audience to different constructed messages, exposing the audience to artificial settings asking them to behave in a particular way while receiving the messages and doing surveys of people who have been exposed to persuasive messages before are some of the methods used by researchers to assess the magnitude of the influence emotions have in the persuasion process. Agreed that the analysis of the effectiveness of persuasive messages can be learnt by calculated methods, but an attempt to conduct such research by mixed methods, i.e., incorporating qualitative as well as quantitative methods might elucidate interesting results. For example, coupling the statistical results with narratives might augment a better comprehensibility of the research work. The second aspect of research on emotion and persuasion which I noticed was that a large portion of the work is confined to health communication where the persuasive nature of emotions is assessed from how the audience perceives the influential advertisements and health campaigns. Considering some of the authors started on the premise of studying persuasion in interpersonal relationships and then steering their study to a direction which has a persuasive message disseminated by a mass medium to an audience not located in a natural setup seemed a bit discursive.