The Hidden Way Our Emotions Can Help Us Communicate

Photo by Guille Faingold

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Whether it's giving a presentation at work or a debate with a friend or loved one, people often instinctually think the best thing they can do to persuade others is use positive language to help legitimize their point. But according to new research published in Psychological Science, people don't actually respond to language that's positive or negative. They respond to language that's emotional.

For the study, researchers had 1,285 study participants review a product on Amazon. Some of the participants used positive language for their five-star reviews, and others gave the same products five stars but used emotional language to describe them. As it turned out, when more emotional language was used, it was more likely to persuade users to buy the product.

"Past research indicates that emotional appeals can backfire when an audience prefers unemotional appeals," explained researcher Matthew D. Rocklage of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. "Our findings indicate that there is a strong enough connection between persuasion and emotion in people's minds that they continue to use emotion even in the face of an audience where that approach can backfire."

In a society where people are at times discouraged from showing emotions, it's encouraging to know that revealing your true feelings about something is what appeals to people. If you're struggling with getting in touch with your emotions, psychotherapist Hilary Jacobs Hendel suggests simply learning about emotions as a way of starting. "When I learned about core emotions and how to work with them, it was an aha! moment for me that changed my personal and professional life," she explains. "I never knew that core emotions were actually a bunch of physical sensations that we come to recognize as an emotion."

Want to learn more about emotions? Here's how they show up in our physical bodies.

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