The psychology of emotions – how are emotions evoked?

I have gone through our strategy with our personnel in our quarterly breakfast meeting, but nevertheless, the staff survey reveals that most of our employees feel they do not know the content of our strategy. How can this be possible?

This is what an angry CEO of a large company complained to me. I have often encountered similar confusion. Managers spend a lot of time clarifying their goals, but for some reason, they are still seen as detached, and commitment to them is weak. Another common source of confusion is when enough sales are not closed, even though the content of the sales presentations have been polished to perfection.

Humans are not just rational

In our attempts to influence others, we often make the mistake of believing that it is enough to simply present them with facts. We think that if the rational content is sound, they will automatically absorb the information and begin to act accordingly.

We assume that because the recipient is inherently a rational, logical thinker, it is enough to bring out the rational aspects of things. We believe that this logical process is effective. We are wrong – we humans are not only rational.

Things evoke emotions in us. A great example is mathematical equations, which are often thought of as pure logic and reason – straightforward thinking in which emotions have no role. The reality is the opposite, as research shows that students even evaluate mathematical equations emotionally.

Equations are either inviting, urging us to solve the equation, or they feel distressing and difficult. Emotions are always present in all thinking. Facts evoke different emotions in us. If we do not take that fact into account, our chances of influencing other people and their actions will be weak.

Do you want your message to be effective? These three emotions will help you do it.

Because the world, the internet, and social media are full of different publications and contents, people have become increasingly selective about the content they consume; only content that arouses curiosity and interests them is read. “A working message is one that the audience wants to see and decides to see.” (Hakola & Hiila 2012)

Arouse their curiosity

The first thing you need to do to get someone’s attention is to arouse their curiosity. Curiosity is a feeling that arises when you notice that there is information somewhere that you do not yet have but want to know. Curiosity is closely related to the courage to try and find out: this feeling moves you forward, keeps you alert, and gives you energy.

Do you ever wonder why you couldn’t put that particular book down or leave that one-night-long movie even though you knew you had to wake up early the next morning? Curiosity is behind all of that: the desire to find out how the story ends.

Curiosity is one of the most significant forces that have influenced the development of humankind. It has taken us to new continents and into space, and has helped medicine and technology progress. Curiosity also promotes learning and is an excellent source of internal motivation.

Curiosity is also a rewarding feeling for the brain. In research on pleasure centers in the brain, it has been found that curiosity itself, the anticipation of interesting information, activates pleasure centers in the brain more than satisfying curiosity. Thus, the stimulating feeling of curiosity itself is more rewarding than the moment when we finally get the information we desire.

Understand and capitalize on confusion

Another feeling essential to impact is confusion. You experience confusion when the information you receive is unclear, contradictory, or incomplete. With confusion, your face shows a confused expression: you draw your eyebrows together. Darwin called the muscle that pulls our eyebrows together the “thinking muscle.” In fact, the confused expression is one of the most widely recognized facial expressions around the world.

The experience of confusion is not very pleasant, which is why it is often underestimated. However, it is valuable to know that confusion is one of our most important and useful feelings. Confusion makes us think, increases motivation to solve unclear situations, and helps us adopt things more deeply. It can be said that all profound learning occurs through great confusion. Without confusion, we cannot experience the joy of insight!

Serve a slice of surprise

The third key emotion for influencing is surprise. One good example of the power of surprise and human irrationality is fake news. Why are rumours and fake news so contagious? Why do they spread, where lies their power? Why are they difficult to resist?

In 2018, a comprehensive study was conducted in the United States on the spread of fake news. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analyzed a total of 126,000 Twitter news stories that had more than 4.5 million readers from 2006 to 2017. The accuracy of the news was verified using several fact-checking sites before they were classified as real news or fake news. Ambiguous news stories were excluded from the study.

The results of the study were devastating for real news. Fake news spreads six times faster and up to 100 times faster to a larger audience than accurate information. An unpleasant surprise was that it is precisely people who spread fake news. Web robots or bots spread all news evenly—they cannot be blamed for the results.

The researchers discovered a pattern of fake news through research. They get their strength from two strong feelings: the information is surprising and the content of the news raises the feeling of disgust. This combination makes people active and want to share the news without thinking about the bigger picture.

Surprising information in fake news affects us through the feeling of surprise. Surprise is usually a short-lived emotion, perhaps the shortest of our emotions. It captures our attention and focuses our thinking and energy on the cause of the surprise. During moments of surprise, it is difficult for us to think about other things. Surprise stimulates our senses and also strengthens our memory.

From Rational Frequency to Emotional Frequency

To enhance the impact of your message, so that people understand it and it leads to the desired action, it is necessary to move from the rational frequency to the emotional frequency in the workplace. We talk about reason, we focus on the matter at hand, and often forget that the quickest and most effective way to influence other people – their thinking and actions – is to influence their emotions.

We think that it is enough to convey the message without paying attention to two essential factors:

  1. Whether we are interested in the topic ourselves
  2. How to get our audience interested in our message

It is almost impossible to influence other people without our own interest. We humans are very sensitive to whether a leader, manager, seller, or expert is interested in their own topic and what kind of emotions they evoke in us.

Brain research shows that it is impossible for us to form memories, concentrate on more complex entities, or make meaningful decisions without emotions. Evolution does not support wasting our brains’ energy and oxygen on things that are not important to us. Therefore, we only think about and act on information that has meaning to us – things that evoke emotions in us.


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