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You're emotional. Deal with it.


No matter how enlightened and politically correct we've become, most people still tend to believe that when making decisions, men are less driven by emotions than women. Men use left-brained (metaphorically speaking) logical, rational thought. Men are persuaded to buy or act based on thinking, not feeling, while women do the opposite. You know, that whole Mars and Venus thing.

This wouldn't be so bad if those left-brained characteristics weren't seen as being more... virtuous.

Newsflash: emotions are sick and tired of being treated like second-class brain citizens! They're taking back their rightful place in the world, thanks to the work of brave neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damsio (author of Descarte's Error). These two, and a handful of others, withstood the mocking of their peers ("Wait... let me get this straight...you're basing your career on studying emotions [laughs hysterically, spits coffee out of nose]. That is hilarious! Oh, Antonio, you almost got me on that one... ha-ha-ha." But thanks to their strength of character, and scientific abilities, they've finally started to offer honest-to-goodness, left-brain-compatible, bonafide scientific evidence of how crucial--and pervasive--emotions are in our lives.

You're all making decisions emotionally. You can deny it all you want, but you should be grateful for emotions. Without them, you'd remember almost nothing. Without them, you wouldn't learn much. Without them... you'd probably be dead. (And not much fun at parties or, for that matter, in bed ; ))

The key points for learning and marketing and creating passionate users is to keep this in mind:

People don't choose rationally to listen to your message and then have a feeling about it. They choose to listen to your message because they have a feeling about it.

If you're basing your communications solely on logical, rational, reasoned facts... the brain is not your friend. Emotions are the gatekeeper... if you want in, you gotta talk to the amygdala.

This doesn't mean that reason isn't crucial. In my little bar charts, logic is still there. You make a decision emotionally, but part of that decision is based on using logic to figure out how you'll feel in the future about your decision. In other words, you'll use logical thinking to predict whether you'll continue to feel good about the decision, or whether in the end... the guilt will be too much. Or that it's not worth the arguments you'll have with your spouse over it. You know the story.

And yeah, I've way over-exaggerated the bar chart to get your attention. In truth, when emotions or logic are not in balance, bad things happen. But we've spent the last several decades putting logic on a pedestal while poor emotions get kicked around and denigrated. In the end, guys, you're just as driven by emotions as women. Trust us... testosterone SO does not enhance your powers of reason. True, we women often show it differently... and certainly more freely than the average male. We don't have as much to prove there, and we always knew that emotions would one day gain the street cred they so richly deserve.

We've just been waiting for the neuroscience to catch up.

For more on emotions, check out the links above on LeDoux and Demasio, and don't forget Dan Pink's book A Whole New Mind, on why you must not only embrace your inner "right brain" attributes, but work and learn to enhance them. Or face being outsourced, automated, or something else bad I can't remember.

Sooner or later, guys, you'll have to learn to cope with the knowledge that you're not nearly as rational as you thought. But I bet if you look back at the last big purchase you made, you'll know in your heart of hearts that no matter how good it looked on paper... you bought it because of how it made you feel. Deal with it. : )

Posted by Kathy on July 5, 2005 | Permalink


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» Emotional Beings? Even Men? from tony morgan | one of the simply strategic guys
Creating Passionate Users is one of my favorite blogs, and they've just posted a challenging thought regarding emotions versus logic. Here's the key thought: People don't choose rationally to listen to your message and then have a feeling about it. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 5, 2005 9:27:34 PM

» Values and Emotion from The Coyote Within
One of the great blogs available is Creating Passionate Users. Whenever I see a new article on that site, I know it's going to be something I want to read. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 6, 2005 10:19:05 AM

» It's all about emotions from Emergence Marketing
Kathy Sierra over at Creating passionate users has a great post on how men and women both use emotions as the primary driver for making decisions. I couldn't agree more, except that I believe that people often go through a... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 6, 2005 10:23:24 AM

» That was TechEd Europe - some random thoughts... from Mikehall's Embedded WebLog
TechEd Europe was a hoot – The TechEd conference team do an excellent job of looking after speakers... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 6, 2005 3:14:35 PM

» emotional decision making from bugresort // icon design, interface design, ergonomie, usability, user experience
Screenshot: headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/ Kathy Sierra about decision making: “No matter how enlightened and politically correct we’ve become, most people still tend to believe that when making decisions, men are less dri... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 1:45:05 AM

» Emotion: Dammit, there's no escape! from Common Ground
Great post on the consistently brilliant Creating Passionate Users blog: People don't choose rationally to listen to your message and then have a feeling about it. They choose to listen to your message because they have a feeling about it. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 3:47:34 AM

» Roadmaps Round-up: decision making, pitching lboggers and Gartner's Magic Quadrant. from Marketing Roadmaps
Finishing up with my blogroll for this week: From Andrew Lark, Tomcruiseisnuts.com I needed something light after the news of the bombings in London, and this fit the bill. Another great post from Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users - [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 10:09:18 AM

» It's yours. It's not rented from Awasu
FeedDemon recently got bought out by NewsGator. Old news, certainly in this fast-paced world of hourly RSS updates but NewsGator announced the other day that all their software products would be moving to a subscription model. This is a mistake, ma... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 7, 2005 9:03:18 PM

» You're emotional. Deal with it. from ratsoringo

Creating Passionate Users explains why the common knowledge on makine decisions emotionally is so backwards:

"People don't choose rationally to listen to your message and then have a feeling about it. They choose to listen to your... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 9, 2005 11:01:45 AM

» Pardon Me, But... from The Corpus Callosum
I didn't take the time to organize my thinking on this; I just want to get the thoughts down on paper pixels. In the late 80's to early 90's, psychologists and psychiatrists who were not psychodynamically oriented developed a branch known as cog... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 10, 2005 9:45:35 AM

» Making an impression from life (over IP)
Kathy Sierra, over at Creating Passionate Users, boils decision-making down to a single maxim: People don't choose rationally to listen to your message and then have a feeling about it. They choose to listen to your message because they... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 10, 2005 2:42:19 PM


Don Norman's 'Emotional Design' is also a good read in this area, and Steven Johnson talks lots about the role of the amygdala in 'Mind Wide Open'. I haven't read Dan Pink's book yet, though.

Posted by: Donna Maurer | Jul 5, 2005 7:55:11 PM

Logically, this emotional gobbledygook is what I would expect from a woman. Hmp. Chicks.

Posted by: Matt Galloway | Jul 6, 2005 12:32:30 AM

Sorry, I couldn't read the rest of your article since your barchart doesn't have a scale. I'm sure it's all very interesting, but until I know (precisely) what percentage of decisions are really based on emotion I can't even start to consider that any of them might be. Better luck next time :-)

Oh yeah, interesting choice of colours in the chart ;-)

Posted by: Lloyd Davis | Jul 6, 2005 12:50:21 AM

Historically, the whole logic-is-everything thing seems to be fairly recent. In the 18th century, debates in the British Parliament often had MPs breaking down in tears. This was not seen as un-manly but an indication of how passionately they felt about the issues being discussed.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Jul 6, 2005 1:30:17 AM

For years, I've been trying to figure out why so many of the decisions taken by managers seem to be "less than logical" ;-) .
I'm pretty sure you just handed me the key to unlock that mistery...

Posted by: MichaelD | Jul 6, 2005 1:41:17 AM

Isn't there something between logical and emotional called intuitive?

By intuitive I mean that it comes from deep within the brain, so deep that you can't work out the steps that got you there - as you could with logic. However it is based on prior experience etc.

Posted by: Paul Morriss | Jul 6, 2005 7:32:47 AM

Ah, you want Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking".

Posted by: Raven | Jul 6, 2005 3:15:05 PM

How true, how true! I've had a running argument with my husband (a particle physicist) for years, that what he chooses to call "logic" in making decisions is really largely emotions in which he has the most vested interest. He denies this in the face of all evidence I put forward. He claims that I am the emotional one, and he is the logical one. Really? I think not! But I'm not too vested in that opinion...


Posted by: Cyndi L | Jul 6, 2005 4:00:30 PM

we've known this for a long time, case in point: marketing. what is interesting is how it affects your decision making process and how to prevent yourself from being out-right manipulated. but it is also important to realize the value of your viceral reaction to something, whether positive or negative and what it means.

Posted by: sloan | Jul 6, 2005 7:17:30 PM

This got me thinking about how people and organizations differ. Personally, I'm happy to admit that my own purchases (especially the big ones) are all about emotion: but problems come when you try and communicate this. When you're working in a team it's difficult to convey why your emotions have led you to a good result. It's much easier to discuss the logic of the situation, even if it's only a tiny part of the process. I think this is often why bad design happens: teams discuss logic and rationality, and the larger the group of people involved the less emotional cohesion and the more logic takes over.

All of which comes right back around to 'make the T-shirt first'...

Posted by: Matt Freeman | Jul 7, 2005 2:33:26 AM

We've been taught how to use tools to support and extend rational thinking: Sets, Logic, Arithmetic, and how to construct arguments for a case (essay writing). All pretty standard stuff. What tools exist to support emotional thinking? I can only think of Edward de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats", particularly the red one (feelings)... Possibly his "water logic" comes in here, and Tony Buzan's mind maps, but I'm not sure if they count as emotional tools.

Posted by: hgs | Jul 7, 2005 4:42:01 AM

loved this post.. can u pls shed some light on effectiveness of emotional decisions vs logical decisions. thanks

Posted by: devilatwork | Jul 7, 2005 9:48:35 AM

Deepak Chopra talks about making decisions using the feelings in the body to help guage which choice is the right one. The amygdala creates an emotional reaction much faster than the logical brain, hormones are released and felt in the body before the logical brain even has a chance to start "thinking" about something. So you really feel what your brain thinks about something before you consciously really know. Malcolm Gladwell's argument (in Blink) is that these initial reactions have already made the decision for us, and if we logically think through something later, we're just rationalizing the decision we've already made with our emotions. But I'm guessing whether or not that's the "right" decision is still up for debate :-)

Posted by: Beth | Jul 9, 2005 9:37:05 AM

I just finished Pink's book this week. Your blog entry is so true. Understanding emotion is the key to understanding why people behave the way they do. When someone does something that just doesn't make sense, it's because their decision is not based on what makes sense, but what feels right...to them. Learning these patterns in people and expecting them to be repeated helps massively in this pursuit we call human relations.

Posted by: Chris Busch | Jul 9, 2005 10:58:25 PM

I believe neuroscience shows that we (male and female) use a different part of our brain when asked about our purchasing preferences than we do when actually making those purchasing decisions. This obviously has huge repercussions as to the validity of pretty much all market reserach but I think also suggests that emotions rise to the surface however much we try to rationalise them away.

Posted by: john dodds | Jul 10, 2005 8:08:33 AM

this started out being so interesting. then you reveal yourself as a marketer. please terminate yourself.

Posted by: extreme unction | Jul 10, 2005 3:24:18 PM

Instinctively, we are all drawn in by the instant emotion but good advice would be to seperate yourself from it initially, and then decide after a little bit of forethought. It is seemingly a seriously daunting task for many of us. However, life isn't going to end if you take a couple more seconds or minutes to decide on something rationally or utilizing more logic than not.
Take Care,

Posted by: Brian | Dec 13, 2005 8:09:44 PM

I believe that this is true because no matter what sex, people react first and then think with their logic instead of doing the logical thing first.
Great piece,

Posted by: Brian | Jan 9, 2006 4:16:15 PM

While it's true that man's capacity for rational thought was more or less grafted onto a brain that was originally designed to operate on instinct and hormones, that doesn't denigrate the remarkable development that is rational thought. It is what brought us out of the caves and made civilization possible. Unlike logic, emotion varies wildly from person to person and thus cannot be used as any kind of objective and consistent standard.

Emotion is what gives us racism, sexism, and a variety of other -isms that rational thought tell us are mostly bogus. Emotion is what gives us superstition; logic is what gives us science. Emotion is what makes us panic when stuck in quicksand, working ourselves deeper into the mire; logic is what tells us to simply lie flat and roll or swim out. Emotion exists to justify its own existence (much as Kathy Sierra's post does); logic exists to serve some other purpose.

In short, logic is a tool. Emotion is a conceit. You tell me which one we should spend more time developing.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | Jan 24, 2007 12:56:01 PM

"Emotion is what gives us superstition; logic is what gives us science. Emotion is what makes us panic when stuck in quicksand, working ourselves deeper into the mire; logic is what tells us to simply lie flat and roll or swim out."

Attempting to appeal to the visceral imperative of self-preservation in a slam against emotion... Interesting. Actually, I think that demonstrates the point of this post.

Posted by: Kevin | Jan 24, 2007 2:32:51 PM

Actually, Kevin, the point was that a reasoned response in this instance is superior to an emotional response (which would most likely be panic). Granted, the desire to remain alive is not logical, but instinctive. That doesn't make the emotional response to danger the better one. In fact, statistics show us that those who respond emotionally to danger tend not to fare as well as those who remain calm and rational.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | Jan 25, 2007 12:19:42 AM

I agree with you completely if you rephrase that as: a reasoned response is superior to a negative emotional response (which, in this instance would most likely be panic)

A positive emotional response, on the other hand, can enhance our ability to think logically. This is actually the premise of Don Norman's 'Emotional Design' and several other books.

Things like racism, and sexism are generally the product of negative emotional responses.

Optomistic people can be highly logical, motivated and determined. The most influential people in the world don't let small failures get to them, and that is how they continue to produce results.

'The Persona Lifecycle' (Pruitt, Adlin) recommends adding seemingly superfluous details to user personas because they generally work better, as people can emotionally identify with them.

It's not that emotion is somehow more important than logic, it's that emotion enables logic.

Posted by: Kevin | Jan 25, 2007 3:15:49 PM

Emotion doesn't enable logic, Kevin, because computers are capable of logic, yet have no feelings. Also, if what you said were true, people would only be able to solve logical problems if they had an emotional stake in the outcome, which is clearly not true. In fact, the greater the emotional stakes, the LESS likely one is to be rational about it, statistically speaking.

Telling yourself that the world is all flowers and sunshine as you sink to a bubbly doom may ease your last moments, but even the most ardent optimist will soon become discouraged after trying to breathe sand instead of air. You make a valiant attempt--a much better one than Kathy's sophomoric rah-rah--but there is nothing in your arguments that indelibly ties emotion to logic.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | Jan 26, 2007 7:59:42 AM

True computers have logic, but have no feelings. They're also entirely unable to deal with the unexpected. Toss a computer in quicksand that hasn't been designed and programmed to handle quicksand, and it sinks too. It doesn't even make an emotional misdirected attempt at saving itself.

At any rate, I'm not really an expert in this area. If you want a more compelling argment, do have a quick read of some of Don Norman's essays, such as Attractive Things Work Better

Posted by: Kevin | Jan 26, 2007 8:39:46 AM

Humans are, of course, more than arid intellect, and in the main the world is a better place for that. I quite agree that, all objective attributes equal, subjective ones do play a part in decision-making. But to argue that EVERYTHING humans do is at some level directed by emotion is false. The desire to live is not grounded solely in emotion--much of it is pure instinct.

In any case, methinks our erstwhile blogette had an axe to grind. She even admitted that the graphs she provided don't come anywhere near the real values. I don't much care for such flippant intellectual dishonesty. Perhaps for her, everything is awash in emotion. My point is that's not true for everybody, and neither they nor humanity in general are diminished for that fact.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | Jan 26, 2007 12:57:02 PM

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