Appeal to emotion

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An appeal to emotion (Latin: argumentum ad passiones) (sometimes personal appeal or argumentum ad personam) is a logical fallacy that occurs when a debater attempts to win an argument by trying to get an emotional reaction from the opponent(s) and/or audience by eliciting (for example) fear or outrage. The appeal generally features the use of loaded language — concepts like religion, nationalism, and nostalgia being common favored topics, while homosexuality, drugs, and crime are popular disfavored ones. In debating terms, it is often effective as a rhetorical device. Still, it is dishonest as a logical argument, since it often appeals to listeners' prejudices instead of being a sober assessment of a situation.

Emotional appeal overlaps with other fallacies such as argumentum ad populum, appeal to consequences, appeal to shame, appeal to force, appeal to fear, and poisoning the well.

The appeal to emotion is an informal fallacy.

Acceptable use[edit]

There are times that appealing to people's emotions is acceptable. This is usually when attempting to motivate people rather than influence or alter their beliefs. Occasionally, this may still be unsound, particularly if the emotions being appealed to have little to do with the action the appellant intends to motivate.[1]



PETA's infamous "Holocaust on your plate" campaign was seen by many as an example of using one of the largest genocides in human history for little more than a cheap comparison in hopes of attempting to turn the public against chicken farming without making a rational argument.

As with children, cute animals override most people's reasoning. Even if the pictures of animal testing published by PETA are 50 years out of date, they still provoke an emotional response rather than a reasoned one when trying to assess cruelty in animal testing. This is also the reason PETA tried to rename fish "sea kittens", which resulted in the word getting the 2009 title of "Most Unnecessary Word of the yearWikipedia" by the American Dialect Society.

Autistic people[edit]

"Think of the autistic people!" is the new "Think of the children!" in some bigoted spaces. TERFs and ace exclusionists love to claim that autistic people are somehow victims of transgender and asexual people (never mind the existence of trans and asexual autistics or autistic people telling them to knock it off[2]).

Unfortunately, using autistic people as a rhetorical prop often ends up infantilizing and speaking over them. The autistic community has fought hard to be taken seriously and be allowed self-determination. Reducing them to helpless childlike figures in your argument is pretty darn horrible.

Of course, there are legitimate cases where autistic people are being harmed (think Autism Speaks and ABA therapy), and encouraging people to empathize with autistics can be good. Many autistic adults can use social media to say, "X is hurting us." There's a vast difference between speaking in solidarity with them and speaking over them to use them as a tool against someone or some policy you don't like.


Helen Lovejoy in The Simpsons.
Won't somebody please think of the children?!
—Helen Lovejoy, The Simpsons

Children are more often than not toddled out as an appeal to emotion. From pictures of starving children to motivate people to give to charity to using them as an excuse to ban things that children shouldn't even be aware of (porn, for example), they are repeatedly paraded in front of audiences to appeal to their emotional protective instincts, often overriding anyone's sense of rationality. "For the children" or "think of the children" as emotional appeals have been used successfully in passing political motions such as Proposition Hate in California. More recently, conservatives have been pushing anti-trans bathroom laws to protect children from trans people (cis people never ever molest childrenDo You Believe That?). One case of a bill specifically for this emotional appeal is the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011,Wikipedia which would require ISPs to store and provide the government with backlogs of every user's online activity on demand. By titling it that way, it makes it easy to claim opponents are in favor of child pornography even if they're talking about the privacy implications and the $200 million burden it imposes on private ISPs.


See the main article on this topic: Pathos gambit

The ever-prevalent "hysterical woman" caricature is a particularly ironic form of emotional appeal (combined with poisoning the well), as it automatically dismisses the opponent's argument as being entirely based on it regardless of their actual argument, even more so as most perpetrators of this argument claim to be entirely rational. The target doesn't have to be female, but we all know being motivated by emotion is a female trait.


Since the advent of 9/11, appealing to veterans has become increasingly popular, particularly in the United States. One such famous example is the Colin Kaepernick National Anthem kneeling controversy. The argument successfully deflects the intended purpose of Kaepernick's kneeling (protesting police brutality and institutionalized racism) to claiming that kneeling was disrespectful to veterans who "fought and died for the flag". Which, in fact, helped to further solidify Kaepernick's complaints in the first place.

The problems with this are numerous. One is that it clearly appeals to emotion ("Think of the veterans!"). Another is that it is co-opting a social cause and attaching veterans to something that has nothing directly to do with them. One further is that it disregards civilians who likewise fought (and died) for civil rights, human rights, and/or "for their country".

See also[edit]

External links[edit]