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Doubt and Emotional Choice

 

Explanations > Decisions > Doubt and Emotional Choice

Description | Example | Discussion | So what

 

Description

When we have a clear reason for doing something, with clear facts and solid argument, we make a rational, cognitive choice. However, if we are uncertain in some way, perhaps doubting what are presented as facts or the credibility of the persuader, then we tend to depend more on our emotions and when choosing.

Example

A politician sows doubt about an opponent's trustworthiness and then makes an emotional appeal. More of the audience accepts the appeal after the doubt is sown.

A person asserts a point in an argument. The other person asks 'How do you know that is true?' The first person now becomes more susceptible to a wider range of persuasive methods.

Discussion

A critical factor here is how we process probability. When we see something as 100% likely, we accept it as fact. However, we think in a non-linear manner as the probability of truth decreases. So, for example, if there is now a 90% chance of truth, we have some doubt, but rather than a little doubt, our confidence drops quickly as we see any doubt as troublesome.

One reason for this is that we tend to focus more on loss than gain. Even a slight chance of loss is weighed more heavily than an increase in the chance of gain. This makes sense in evolutionary situations where caution can save lives, but most modern situations are nowhere near that severe. Yet this loss-focus still drives much of what we do and a little doubt seems like a lot of possible trouble.

A reason that we turn to emotions is that we often use emotional decision-making, choosing what feels good rather than what makes logical sense. When logic begins to fail, we feel the discomfort of uncertainty and hence grab at the comfort of emotional decisions where sense-making is not required.

So what?

If you want to persuade an audience and your competitor seems to have a logical argument that will beat you, find ways to make your audience doubt them, for example by challenging their data, method, morals or credibility. Then offer the certainty of a strongly asserted answer without bothering with facts or logic -- simply present your solution as 'the best'. As needed, add further emotional argument.

See also

Types of Reasoning

 

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