Appeal To Emotion – Explaining This Fallacy & Examples

31.01.24 Fallacies Time to read: 10min

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Being able to write persuasively is an essential skill when you are presenting your research in the form of a thesis. However, you have to make sure that your persuasive techniques are logical and effective. You want your argument to be credible and based on fact. The appeal to emotion fallacy could weaken your argument. Learning about this fallacy will help you avoid it when writing your dissertation.

Appeal to emotion in a nutshell

The appeal to emotion fallacy is when someone tries to convince you by making you feel strong emotions (like fear, pity, or joy) instead of giving you solid facts or a logical argument. It’s like when someone says, “Think of the children!” to win an argument, even if what’s being discussed isn’t directly related to children. They’re trying to make you feel something strongly, so you’ll agree with them even though they have weak arguments.

Definition: Appeal to emotion

As the name implies, an appeal to emotion (lat. “argumentum ad passions”) relies on the potency of emotional responses to convey a point, rather than relying solely on persuasive reasoning. It can appeal to a whole host of emotions, from fear, pity, anger, sadness, pride, or joy, and therefore relies on emotional reactions to persuade the audience. Most commonly, this fallacy is used to derive attention from weak arguments. An appeal to emotion is considered an informal fallacy because the reasoning is logically flawed due to the content of the argument or a failure in the argument’s structure, making it unsound or invalid.


A child refuses to eat everything on their plate. The parent or caregiver tells them they have to eat up, as there are starving children who have no food. The adult is trying to make the child feel sorry for these starving children, and through emotional appeals of pity or guilt, get them to eat their food. A more logical argument would be to tell the child that this food is good for them and will make them strong and healthy.


Mark leaves the store with a pair of socks that he did not pay for. When apprehended by the security guard, he apologizes profusely and explains that he has been very distracted lately because his wife has left him. He is appealing to the security guard’s sense of pity by explaining why he left the store without paying for an item. He is making use of the appeal to emotions fallacy.


Appeals to emotion include various positive as well as negative feelings. These arguments use the power of emotions by using the two key emotions.

  1. Negative emotions: Guilt, shame, frustration, disgust, fear, helplessness, pessimism, anger, pity, apathy, hate, loathing, contempt, bitterness, jealousy, despair, indignation, distrust, cynicism, embarrassment, spite, sadness, resentment, disappointment, vanity, pride, annoyance, envy, and anxiety.
  2. Positive emotions: Compassion, trust, excitement, hope, love, humility, pleasure, amusement, happiness, relief, joy, optimism, gratitude, respect, admiration, courage, sympathy, kindness, and affection.

Some of these emotions can be categorized as specifically negative or positive. However, what is important is to identify an appeal to emotion fallacy and the fact that even a positive emotion can be appealed to in a manner that is manipulative and that leads to negative consequences. Thus, an appeal to emotion may lead to more critical thinking. However, the argument is still fallacious and would be deemed incorrect in academic writing.

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Psychology behind the appeal to emotion fallacy

An appeal to emotion works because it taps into the power of emotions, making the audience more receptive and connected to the message. Emotions like fear, happiness, anger, or empathy can strongly influence people’s attitudes and decisions, often more powerfully than logic or facts alone. This emotional connection can make the message more memorable and persuasive, as people are typically (unknowingly) more driven by how they feel about an issue than by objective data.

In addition, emotions can be considered in a manner that is logical and sound, particularly regarding arguments, even if it seems logically unsound to do so. For example, it can be logically sound to decide on a course of action when this action will make people feel happy or sad. People might factor this in, even if it has no relevance to the argument itself.

Furthermore, the latest issue of the argument can be difficult to identify, and the argument itself can appear more persuasive when an appeal to emotion combines sound reasoning with the deceptive use of emotion.

How to appeal to somebody emotionally

An appeal to emotion involves using rhetorical strategies to evoke specific feelings in your audience, influencing their attitudes and decisions. This can be achieved through three primary types of appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos.

This appeal to emotion focuses on establishing the credibility or trustworthiness of the speaker. Using ethos, you demonstrate your honesty, moral character, or authority on the subject.


A doctor speaks about health issues. This would establish ethos by mentioning their medical expertise.

This is a direct appeal to emotion. It involves using language, stories, or images that evoke feelings like fear, sympathy, anger, or happiness. Pathos can be achieved through storytelling, vivid imagery, or passionate delivery.


A charity uses images of people in need to evoke empathy and compassion, motivating the audience to donate.

Although primarily associated with logic and reasoning, logos can also be an appeal to emotion by presenting clear, rational arguments that make the audience feel secure in their decision. By providing facts, statistics, or logical arguments, a speaker can create a sense of trust and reliability, appealing to the audience’s desire for stability and reason.


A financial advisor uses statistics and logical predictions about market trends to reassure clients, thereby appealing to their need for security and peace of mind.

What makes an appeal to emotion fallacious?

An appeal to emotion is considered fallacious because it relies on manipulating emotions rather than offering valid, logical reasoning or factual evidence to support an argument. It tries to substitute the argument by providing evidence with emotion. This tactic diverts attention from the strengths or weaknesses of the argument itself and instead seeks to persuade by eliciting an emotional response. As a result, decisions made under the influence of such appeals may not be based on sound reasoning or objective analysis, leading to potentially flawed conclusions. The appeal to emotion fallacy lies in using emotion to persuade, rather than building a case through logical and factual evidence.

Appeal to emotion fallacy examples

The appeal to emotion fallacy is common in various fields, particularly in politics or real life. In the following, you will find examples that illustrate this.

In real life


A student is trying to persuade their parents to let them go on a school trip. Instead of presenting practical reasons like educational benefits, the student emphasizes how sad and left out they will feel if they can’t go, especially since all their friends are attending. This appeal to their parents’ emotions is aimed at invoking sympathy and concern, rather than making a logical argument based on the trip’s merits.

In politics


A politician is telling a moving story about a single parent struggling to make ends meet during their campaign. This story might be used to evoke feelings of empathy and compassion among the audience, with the aim of garnering support for a policy that promises to reduce poverty. The political message focuses on the emotional impact of the story, rather than providing detailed policy analysis or evidence of the policy’s effectiveness.

Appeal to emotion fallacy in academic writing

In academic writing, the appeal to emotion fallacy is generally considered inappropriate and discouraged. Academic writing prioritizes objective analysis, logical reasoning, and evidence-based arguments. Using emotional appeals can undermine the objectivity and credibility of the work, as it shifts the focus from factual evidence and rational argumentation to subjective feelings. The goal in academic contexts is to persuade through sound reasoning and robust evidence, not through the manipulation of emotions. Therefore, emotional appeals are typically viewed as a weakness in academic arguments, indicating a lack of substantial evidence or logical reasoning. Thus, you should definitely avoid using this fallacy in your next paper.

How to avoid using appeal to emotion

To avoid using emotional appeals, first consider whether trying to elicit emotions or discuss them is appropriate in the context of your argument. If you feel it is appropriate, then try to do so in a logically sound way, for example, by not evading your burden of proof through the use of emotions to distract your audience.

Furthermore, you should focus on presenting factual information and logical arguments. Stick to objective data, use rational reasoning, and avoid using language or imagery that is designed to elicit an emotional response. Prioritize clear, evidence-based communication over storytelling or personal anecdotes that might sway emotions.

Example: Appeal to emotion fallacy in an academic paper

In a paper arguing the importance of climate change policies, the writer states: “If we don’t take action against climate change now, our children will inherit a devastated world full of suffering, disease, and conflict. Imagine the tears of future generations accusing us of inaction and selfishness.”

Example: Alternative statement

“Research indicates that without policy interventions, climate change is likely to lead to specific environmental and social challenges, such as increased incidence of extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity, and heightened resource scarcity, as outlined in the recent IPCC report. These challenges underscore the importance of implementing comprehensive climate change policies to mitigate these projected impacts.”

In this revised version, the argument is supported by referencing research and reports, focusing on the data and projected outcomes rather than trying to evoke emotional responses. This approach maintains the academic integrity and persuasiveness of the argument without resorting to emotional manipulation.

Identifying the use

If you’re uncertain whether your paper is making use of the appeal to emotion fallacy, work through the following points when reviewing your argument:

  1. Check for emotional language: Look for words or phrases that evoke strong emotions such as fear, pity, anger, or joy. Emotional language often tries to influence the reader’s feelings rather than presenting an objective argument.
  2. Analyze the arguments: Assess whether the arguments are primarily based on facts, evidence, and logical reasoning or if they rely on evoking emotional responses. An emotional appeal may be present if the argument makes you feel strongly about an issue without providing substantial evidence or logical reasoning.
  3. Look for subjective or biased statements: If the paper contains subjective opinions or biased statements that aim to sway the reader’s emotions, rather than presenting a balanced view, it may indicate an appeal to emotion.
  4. Examine the use of anecdotes or stories: While anecdotes can be effective in illustrating points, relying heavily on personal stories or hypothetical scenarios that are designed to evoke sympathy or fear might be an appeal to emotion.
  5. Identify fear or pity appeals: Be wary of arguments that seem to manipulate fear (e.g., suggesting catastrophic consequences, without evidence) or pity (e.g., overly sentimental examples).
  6. Evaluate the conclusion: Sometimes, emotional appeals are more evident in the conclusion, where the writer might urge the reader to take action or change their opinion based on emotional reasoning rather than the evidence presented.

Once identified, it’s important to revise these sections to ensure that the arguments are grounded in evidence and logical analysis, maintaining the academic rigor and objectivity expected in scholarly writing.

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An appeal to emotion is a rhetorical or persuasive strategy where the speaker or writer seeks to elicit an emotional response from the audience, rather than using logical arguments or factual evidence to support their point.

Imagine a politician giving a speech about environmental conservation. Instead of relying solely on statistics and scientific data about environmental degradation, the politician tells a heartfelt story about a child who can no longer play in their local park because it’s been destroyed by pollution. This emotional story is used to persuade the audience to support a policy on environmental conservation.

An appeal to emotion is a persuasive technique where the argument is made by manipulating the emotions of the audience, rather than using valid reasoning or factual evidence. This tactic aims to elicit an emotional response, like fear, pity, or joy, to persuade the audience to agree with the argument.

One appeals emotionally to evoke strong feelings in the audience, such as fear, sympathy, or anger, to persuade or influence their opinions and decisions, often bypassing rational debate or factual evidence.

The three different types of emotional appeals are ethos (appealing to ethics or credibility), pathos (appealing to emotions), and logos (appealing to logic or reason).

Synonyms of “appeal to emotion” include emotional persuasion and sentimental appeal.

In addition to the appeal to emotion fallacy, there are numerous other types of fallacies. Here are some common ones you might stumble upon and use unknowingly.