I used to think that my French bulldog, Esme, was nice but dim: she never manages to progress in her training past a split-second half-sit, can’t swim, and head-butts big dogs in the park if they appear boisterous.
As it turns out, she might just be a genius in the art of persuasion.
Not only is she a lot better at getting what she wants than I am, she could probably teach Aristotle a thing or two about “awakening emotions in the audience so as to induce them to make the judgement desired”.
Given that Esme has limited ability to appear authoritative (ethos) or use facts and figures (logos), she manages to get everything she wants out of life by pushing emotional buttons (pathos) alone.
In distinct contrast, my world of medical communications is often lacking in emotion. It’s largely about the credibility and the quality of the evidence. Certainly this is important, but I wonder if we might sometimes fail to persuade or connect with our audiences by ignoring their emotional responses.
I’m not talking about jumping on the ‘storytelling’ bandwagon (although it’s a handy wagon and I enjoy an occasional ride). I’m talking about empathising with our audiences and providing high-quality information in a way that uses more than just the logic and reason parts of their brains.
Developments in cognitive science suggest that the biology and psychology of emotion have a lot to do with how we process – or do not process – information.
We all continuously seek information about the circumstances we encounter to help make meaning of our experiences. Emotions are integral to the meaning-making process. Even the most rational and scientifically minded among us place an emotional value on incoming information. If it fails to elicit an emotional response, it will not be perceived as meaningful and therefore has little chance of being selected for your long-term memory.
So how should we convey sterile data?
The right words can help frame data in an emotional way. When you don’t have much room for manoeuvre with the copy, good design can help. Design that triggers surprise, fascination, joy or curiosity. Sometimes it’s just about usability – presenting information in a format that takes the needs of the user into account – since this indirectly shows empathy.
So, sure ethos and logos are important, but when we exclude pathos, we are missing out on an opportunity to connect with the audience.
Perhaps to make ourselves heard, we could learn a little from the dog.
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