Grab Them By the Heart Strings

Olumide Olasope Written by Olumide Olasope · 2 min read >


As we continue with the fallacies, we move to the fallacy of appeals to emotion. The description is in the name, you completely abandon logic and use emotion to try to win an argument. This is one of the most misunderstood fallacies because appeals to emotion can be good or bad; it all comes down to how you use it.

The Good

People familiar with persuasion would immediately know that appeals to emotion are needed a lot when you aim to persuade. The reason why it is not a fallacy, in this case, is because a strong persuasion argument shows up with facts and might use the appeal to emotions to support the points. Your entire argument is not based on the appeal to emotions, there is a link between the facts and the appeal which makes the entire argument valid.

Sometimes even the fallacy itself might be used in a good way. Everyone was young at some point (I hope), and a lot of us had things we didn’t enjoy eating. Our parents used to get us to eat all our food by saying “remember the starving kids in the world, they have nothing to eat”. This is a direct appeal to a child’s emotions, but in truth finishing the food or not has no bearing on the starving children in the world. If you feel some resistance to this point, it is simply because your emotions are being appealed to, even right now when I am trying to do the exact opposite.

The Bad

The bad appeals are quite straightforward and have been covered a bit in the previous section. What happens here is; someone notices that their argument is falling apart, so they reach for the audience’s emotions. It is a fallacy is because, any swaying of the audience done at this point is not done with logic or even a sound argument, you just took them for a ride with their emotions. E.g. you are losing an argument and say “think of the children”

Another bad approach and the most dangerous is when the appeal to emotions is used to push a dangerous agenda. This is the root of things like government propaganda; where they tap into the patriotism of citizens to push hate of another country or even reasons to invade that country.

The Media

Nearly all adverts appeal to some sort of emotion. It is not always wrong, but sometimes it is unethical when the aim is to manipulate. An ok example is when the red cross shows starving children before asking for donations. This is not under the fallacy because the appeal to emotion and their core message line up perfectly; with the appeal serving to support their point.

The manipulation comes in when the media tries to appeal to people’s vanity. Showing a man in a perfume advert with women lining up for him because of the scent. We know this is illogical to assume based on one product, but this is an appeal to the vanity in men and their sexual desires. The examples are endless, but each one is trying to elicit a reaction from the viewer; which is to buy the product being shown.


As shown in the article, appeals to emotion do not always have to be a fallacy in arguments. It is about choosing your moments and ensuring your appeals link to, and support the facts you present.


OMB in General
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