Facts vs. Emotions – Who Wins?

confusion/emotion vs. facts/evidence

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“Facts are stubborn things,” President John Adams once said. “And whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

True, facts are stubborn things, but…people are more stubborn.

In a battle between logic and emotion, emotion will win over facts most of the time.

Researchers have estimated that 80% of decisionmaking is emotional, and only 20% rational. According to Kevin Roberts, CEO of advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, “Reason leads to conclusions. Emotion leads to action.”

Just look at the US presidential elections. How rational is any of what has been happening there? Fact-checkers have been busy, but facts don’t seem to be what many voters are looking for.

The Brexit vote was completely unexpected by those who thought their long list of economic arguments was enough to convince the British people to stay in the European Union.

And in the Middle East, UNESCO just passed a resolution claiming that the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem have no historical connection to Jews (despite thousands of years of evidence).

These days, it feels like facts have been thrown out the window.

The fact is (whether or not it will convince you!) that emotions are powerful things. Feelings of frustration, patriotism, nostalgia, jealousy or fear can easily outweigh well thought-out, logic-based arguments. And sometimes they can drive people to make up their own “facts” that, repeated often enough, take on a life of their own.

But this doesn’t only happen in politics. Think about the communication campaigns out there trying to convince people to change their behaviors. What do most of them do? Lay out the cold, hard facts to persuade people rationally why they should do the right/healthy/socially beneficial thing. No wonder they don’t make much of a dent!

So, how do you motivate members of your community to take action on your health or social issues? You don’t need to abandon facts altogether – they play an important role in providing information and establishing credibility.

But facts alone are not enough.

Combine your most compelling facts with an emotional appeal. This is not a cynical thing to do – this is how our brains work! Do research with your priority populations to find out what they care about. Align your behavioral “product” with people’s values to show how they can get what they want and need emotionally by coming on board.

Social marketing gives you a systematic approach to designing social impact programs that take emotion into account. Making a behavior fun, social and easy are only some of the ways you can go beyond providing “just the facts.”

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