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Agents of Influence: Emotional Arousal

I recently read the account of a man accused of a heinously violent crime. He didn’t fit the mold of a violent criminal. He was a seemingly normal, mild-mannered, law abiding citizen… when one day, in a fit of rage, he snapped and did the unthinkable.

How could this happen? In his confession to the authorities, he described the event as an out-of-body experience. He also used the term autopilot to explain his thought process and behavior. It was a crime of passion driven by rage.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is. While the story above is a recent one, there have been songs, poems, articles, books (both fiction and nonfiction) and countless studies done about crimes of passion. By definition, a crime of passion occurs against someone the perpetrator loves, which is the great irony of the crime. Assuming there was a falling out between the two people, by committing the crime, the perpetrator ensures he or she will not reconcile the relationship. In other words, success guarantees failure. It is the pinnacle of irrational thinking.

This, of course, is an extreme example of when emotional arousal triggers one’s autopilot cognitive processing system, but our emotions affect our decision-making on a daily basis.

In fact, fMRI neuro-imagery reveals that consumers mostly use emotions when choosing one brand over another as opposed to analyzing product information like features and attributes. And when we are in a hot emotional state of say joy, anger, arousal, or even hunger, we are compelled to satisfy our immediate desires, even if they are at the expense of long-term ends. That is why it is a good idea to eat before grocery shopping. You will be less inclined to make impulse purchases when your hunger is satisfied. Snickers leveraged this concept with their Hangry advertising campaign.

Moods also affect our behavior. When we feel good, we tend to reward ourselves lavishly. We will often allow our impulses to take over. When we feel badly, we might also feel compelled to make unneeded purchases. It is the extremes that tend to trigger autopilot thinking, which can lead to compulsive behavior and leave us susceptible to influence tactics.

Retail therapy is real. Shoppers in an extremely negative mood, such as sadness or depression, do feel a temporary positive affect on their mood when engaged in compulsive shopping. Unfortunately, this is an example of meeting an immediate need (self-soothing) at the expense of long-term consequences (financial distress).

On the other hand, theme parks go out of their way to create a sense of euphoria for their visitors. They want us in an exuberant mood, so they feature bright colors, happy music and cheery and nostalgic costumed characters greeting guests on the streets. Speaking from experience, these tactics work. I can’t leave a theme park without wondering what happened to my money. Of course, I happily handed it over readily acknowledging a splurge for the occasion. It felt so good at the time.

Emotions influence how we think and behave. We unconsciously draw on our emotions from prior similar experiences and they color the options up for consideration. These emotional conditions sway our preferences and influence our decisions.

Storytelling has become such a popular concept because marketers are looking to make emotional connections with their customers. And this is great. But, if you want to influence a behavioral action, make sure your story engenders a state of emotional arousal.

Just promise me you will avoid stoking the emotion of passion. You know… to be on the safe side.


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by the Seven Deadly Sins of Decision Making & Influence

Available Here


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