The appeal to emotions fallacy occurs when a person attempts to use emotion to convince people that their opinion or argument is correct.
The appeal to emotion fallacy is often used in daily life, mainly because it is so effective. It is a fallacy because a proper logical argument uses reason, evidence, or facts to show that it is correct.
The fallacy is so effective because emotions play a very significant role in human life. It can override our ability or desire to analyze an argument. As a result, we often come to a conclusion based solely on how the argument made us feel, and not if it was a good, logical argument.
Shortlist: Top Appeal To Emotion Fallacy Examples
- A defendant in court says they shouldn’t have to pay a fine because they feel terrible for what they did.
- Young lovers are trespassing and kissing on a balcony but the security guard leaves them alone because they look so happy.
- A soft drink company doesn’t promote their product’s taste or nutritional value. Instead, they say that the drink will make you feel happy!
- A bad boyfriend tells you he knows he is not the best partner, but you love him, so you should forgive him.
- A t-shirt brand knows their products are low quality so they don’t promote the quality. Instead, they say if you buy it, you’ll feel more confident.
- A group of friends go out to dinner but one friend can’t go so he asks everyone else not to go so he doesn’t feel left out.
- A student is going to miss her assignment submission date so she asks her professor to give her extra time because she’d be so sad if she didn’t pass the course.
Appeal to Emotion Examples (Detailed List)
1. Drink up!
Scenario: A popular soft drink company uses the slogan: ‘Drink with us, you’ll love it!’.
This is a typical advertising tactic that we encounter every day. In this scenario, the reason given for buying the soft drink is that the person drinking it will love it. Additionally, and in a more subtle way, the slogan gives the sense that buying their drink will make you part of a group and feel included. This comes from the ‘drink with us’ part.
The slogan, therefore, has two appeals to emotion. Firstly, the person will be part of a group and secondly that they will love the drink. In terms of a logical argument, the slogan is fallacious because it does not give any good reasons for why a person should buy the drink. In fact, they don’t even say what it tastes like! Instead, it appeals to the consumer’s emotions.
2. Left out.
Scenario: Frank is going to miss out on a big party. He says to his friend: ‘please don’t go without me. I will feel left out if you do.’
Frank feels bad about missing the party. His friend still has the option to go but Frank asks him not to. The reason why Frank thinks his friend should not go is that if his friend goes without him Frank will feel left out.
In this situation, Frank is appealing to his friend’s emotions by attempting to make his friend feel bad for him. He does so by pointing out that he will feel left out if his friend goes in the hopes that his friend will feel sorry for him. Frank is committing the appeal to emotions fallacy in order to get his friend to not go to the party.
3. Eat your veggies.
Scenario: A difficult child doesn’t want to eat their vegetables. Their parents tell them to not be so fussy because there are starving children all over the world who need food.
This appeal to emotions fallacy is perhaps the most widely used one. Parents all over the world invoke this fallacy to get their children to eat healthy foods.
By telling the child that there are starving children in the world the parent is attempting to make the child feel bad for not eating the food and/or sorry for the starving children. The parent is appealing to the child’s emotion of guilt or pity in order to get them to eat their food.
An example of a good logical argument for eating vegetables is: you should eat your vegetables because they are good for you and they will stop you from getting sick. A correct example like this is instructive. It allows us to see reasons given which relate directly to the subject of eating vegetables for the child.
Scenario: Gary breaks a lamp at a house party. He goes to the host and tells him that he feels terrible for breaking it and he promises it was an accident.
Gary attempts to convince the host of the party that breaking the lamp was an accident. In order to decide whether it really was an accident Gary only gives the host two pieces of information. Firstly, he feels terrible for breaking the lamp, and secondly, he is willing to promise his word on the statement.
The two reasons that are given to the host are both intended to appeal to their emotions. The first reason is the more obvious, Gary states that he feels terrible and is therefore attempting to get the host to feel sympathetic for him The second is less obvious, Gary gives his word as a promise that it was an accident. By doing so he asks the landlord to trust him.
When we examine the scenario from a logical perspective can clearly see that Gary is committing the appeal to emotions fallacy. He has given no good reasons for how his breaking of the lamp was an accident.
5. Guilty as charged.
Scenario: Greg leaves a clothing store carrying a scarf that he did not pay for. When security stops him he explains to them that he has just been so distracted lately, his mother is very ill in the hospital.
Greg made a mistake and carelessly left the clothing store with a scarf he intended to buy. His reason is that he has been so distracted by his ill mother, which has obviously been causing him emotional distress.
In this scenario, he is appealing to the security guard’s sense of pity in order to explain how it could be that he left the store without paying for an item. It is a direct appeal to emotions and therefore Greg is committing the appeal to emotions fallacy.
6. Young and in love.
Scenario: Two security guards, Jack and Susan are watching a young couple as they unknowingly trespass on private property while taking an evening stroll. Susan points out to Jack that they are trespassing. Jack responds by saying that he does not want to disturb them because they look so happy.
It is Jack and Susan’s job to stop people from trespassing. Susan points out that the young couple is trespassing and therefore it is their job to tell them to move off the private property.
However, Jack is moved by how happy the young couple looks. He attempts to avoid telling the young couple off by appealing to Susan’s emotions by pointing out how happy the couple is. The implication of this is that if Jack and Susan tell the young couple off, it might ruin their happy moment.
Jack’s reason for not doing his job is a direct appeal to Susan’s emotions rather than a proper, logical argument.
7. Disaster in the ocean.
Scenario: An environmental activist is asking a friend: how can you not care about the seals in an oil spill. You should see how sad their faces look!
Oil spills are events that are detrimental to the flora and fauna of any environment where they happen. In this scenario, the activist is attempting to get their friend to care about the seals who were affected by this spill.
The reason why the activist’s argument is a form of the appeal to emotions fallacy is because of the evidence they give to their friend. The activist claims that the seals look so sad. This is a direct appeal to the emotions of their friend by trying to elicit sympathy from them for the seals.
8. Spooky math.
Scenario: Cindy has not done her math homework again. She explains to her teacher that she couldn’t do it because she heard a scary noise under her bed and she was too frightened to concentrate.
Regardless of what caused the noise under the bed the real reason given for why Cindy could not do her math homework is because she was frightened. Cindy hopes that her teacher will feel sorry for her and let her off the hook for not doing math homework once again.
Cindy is therefore appealing to her teacher’s emotions in order to get out of trouble. By doing so, she is committing a logical fallacy.
9. Please, coach!
Scenario: Francesca tries out for first-team soccer. When she does not get picked for the team she approaches her coach and tells them that it’s been her lifelong dream to be on the team and it would mean so much to her. Francesca also mentions that Cathy who did get picked, doesn’t even really like soccer.
Getting picked for the first team is based on skill and hard work. In order to create a logical argument for why Francesca should be on the team, some mention of skill and hard work should be mentioned. Or, alternatively, there should be an explanation for the absence of these things.
In this scenario is committing the appeal to emotions fallacy, Francesca tells the coach that it was her dream. While it is sad that Francesca has for the moment not achieved her dream this is not a reason to be picked for the team. She is clearly appealing to the coach’s emotions. Either hoping he would feel sorry for her or impressed by her dream.
10. Pride of Place
Scenario: Trevor’s boss is asking him to work unpaid overtime for the 6th time this month. When Trevor complains, his boss tells him that he should be proud to work for their company.
Trevor’s boss is asking Trevor to work unpaid overtime without being paid. His boss expects him to feel pride in his work and that this should be enough to satisfy him.
Pride is a powerful emotion and one which Trevor’s boss is using as a reason which justifies the overtime. As Trevor’s boss does not give any concrete reason for why Trevor cannot be paid, he is committing the appeal to emotion’s fallacy.
11. Danger ahead!
Scenario: Chris’ friends want to go to hang out at an old abandoned house but Chris is worried that it’s dangerous. He tries to tell his friends about how dangerous it is. They respond by telling him that he will be the only one left out if he does not come.
Feeling included is a powerful drive for humans, one that stems from our emotional needs. In this scenario, Chris’ friends do not give any reasons why Chris should not worry about the dangers of going to the abandoned house.
His friends are committing the appeal to emotion fallacy. They are not even attempting to give him a reason, emotional or logical, as to why the abandoned house is not dangerous. Instead, they tell him that he will be left out and not part of the group if he does not join them.
12. Do you want them to think that?
Scenario: A politician is giving a speech about the importance of clean streets and working infrastructure. His key talking point is telling people that tourists and visitors will come to the city and think that the residents were dirty and poor.
Politics is where the appeal to emotions fallacy is most powerful. It is the perfect way to get large groups of people to agree to something without focusing on the details or consequences of the agreement.
In this scenario, the politician is attempting to make the residents of the city feel bad and ashamed of their city so that they will agree with the politician. The politician should really be pointing out the benefits of a clean and efficient city such as health concerns, time saved, and safety.
However, the politician commits an appeal to emotion fallacy by trying to make the residents feel bad about their city.
13. Getting an Extension
Scenario: A student approaches their professor to ask for an extension. Rather than explaining their legitimate hardship, they say: “I need an extension because I really want to pass this course.”
Here, there is no true logical reason for the student to get an extension. They haven’t proven hardship or demonstrated to the teacher that they deserve extra time. In fact, other students may be very upset that they put in so much effort to submit on time and then this student gets an extension for no apparent reason!
However, a professor might feel bad for the student and understand that the student feels terrible about missing the assignment deadline. So, the professor gives the extension despite the fact they don’t deserve it. The student managed to successfully tug on the professor’s heartstrings.
14. The Low-Quality Product
Scenario: A brand is selling t-shirts but they’re very low quality. Because they can’t appeal to the quality of the product, they choose instead to promote how people will feel cool if they wear the clothing.
In late capitalism, brands tend to appeal to emotion more than product quality. Marketers have learned that product quality is less of a selling point than appealing to how the product makes you feel. This has provided cover for brands to put less of a focus on the quality of materials and more on branding, marketing, and design features.
15. The Bad Boyfriend
Scenario: A boyfriend failed to contact his girlfriend for a whole week, instead choosing to go out drinking with his friends. He comes back home and his girlfriend is mad. He responds: “I know I did the wrong thing, but please forgive me. You know you love me!”
In this scenario, the boyfriend has no good reasons for his actions, so he has attempted to be manipulative by appealing to emotions. He insists that the girlfriend should forgive him not because he’ll do better next time or because he’s truly learned his lesson.
Rather, the boyfriend’s reasoning is simply that the girlfriend loves him, and therefore, she should forgive him. If she were to break up with him instead, she’ll be sad. And while it might be the right course of action, it might hurt her emotions (in the short term) and therefore, she shouldn’t do it!
Where to Identify Appeal to Emotions Fallacies
In daily life, the most common places where the appeal to emotion fallacy is used are in politics and advertising.
Often, political campaigns or adverts will target emotional subjects rather than facts and concrete issues. It is usually the quickest way to get people on your side.
Given that this strategy is used so much, and that it is very effective, being aware of it is important. The ability to separate the ‘facts from the feelings’ is a worthwhile tool for everyone to have. It makes a person less easy to persuade for the wrong – or lack of – reasons.
Other Common Fallacies
- Gambler’s Fallacy
- Begging the Question
- Appeal to Tradition
- Bandwagon Fallacy
- Equivocation Fallacy
- False Analogy Fallacy
Throughout these various examples, we can see in how many different situations the appeal to emotion fallacy can occur. Emotions play a role in almost every situation in our lives and emotions from an event can impact an unrelated event in the future.
When attempting to solve a problem logically we need to be especially aware of this side of our lives. Emotions should not be ignored but they should be put in perspective when assessing an argument or situation for its logical value.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.