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Understanding Behavioural Science - The Impact Of Our Emotions

Understanding Behavioural Science - The Impact Of Our Emotions

Written by

Abbie Dawson


July 31, 2023


Behavioural science

Emotions and mood are a big part of behavioural science. But why are they so important, and how do they influence us?

A big part of understanding behavioural science is understanding how emotions influence us, and how our mood can be a modifier. It might seem weird to reduce complex humans down to just a few feelings, but they're very powerful and important.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of our new book, Atmospheres That Sell - Using Behavioural Science To Create Branded Atmospheres in Retail & Hospitality.

As we learnt in the first chapter, for all that we believe we’re good at taking an objective measure on our reality, we’re highly impacted by our moods. Our moods interfere with our opinions, rewrite our memories, impact our ability to take in new information, our ability to recall and our filtering of stimuli. Now, before we get into mood, let’s cover her much more fleeting sister - emotions.

We might not like to hear how we can be reduced to six emotions, but it can be useful to consider these six emotions as great starting points for the kinds of customer experience you aim to build out from.

In the 1970s psychologist, Paul Ekman identified six core emotions that he proposed were felt by all of the human species. Using a blend of facial recognition, body language and language choices, he pinned us all down to just six ways of feeling.

The Six Core Emotions:


Although this has been later expanded to include further emotions with more complex compositions, these basic six are still nonetheless considered universal and powerful. Using these as a start point within an experience can be a useful tool in ensuring an emotional drive is provided in any work we do. Now I imagine you’re looking at this list and wondering why on earth you’d ever want someone to feel disgust or fear. But I’d argue that retail and hospitality brands are becoming so increasingly stuck in mimicry that sometimes stepping out of the norm can bring incredibly powerful distinctiveness (see chapter 5). Indeed, if you can step outside your usual set of emotional aims within a customer experience, perhaps something magical could happen.

Let’s take disgust.

Hard to imagine that being a helpful target emotion, right?

Well which of these ads do you think is more likely to nudge you towards buying some hand sanitiser?

Source: YouTube




If you placed each of these ads at your POS next to some hand sanitiser, it’s not too hard to see which is likely to get people buying. Now, of course, there are limits to using the less obvious emotions, but I can promise you this - you’ll discover more interesting ideas than any of your competitors.

The real point I’m wanting to make here is that emotions can be really powerful drivers of action. They act by narrowing the decision routes that someone may take, and once an emotion has been triggered it sets away reducing the action options towards a potential goal. The intention should always be using emotions as a way of reducing the decision space down to increase the propensity of a preferred action. And choosing only the obvious ones (and by ‘obvious’ I also include those that are so low arousal that they barely register at all) can lead to being stinted in your creative choices and the propensity towards the given action. Moreover, making sure to reach for an emotion - instead of a bland, watered-down version - will be much more effective in causing action. To use another seemingly unhelpful emotion, fear - you could drive action by fear of missing out. Just think of the queues of hundreds of people getting the latest Apple product as soon as it’s available. Do you think they could be considered fearful of missing out? You-betcha. That said, there’s more power in causing positive emotions over negative ones as these are more likely to support word of mouth and this is something you certainly don’t want to be missing out on.

In ‘The Long and Short of It’, Peter Field and Les Binet examined the real commercial impact of different marketing messages. It covered more than 1000 campaigns over 30 years and what it found is that, essentially, emotional messaging was more profitable for business. Of the marketing campaigns that used rational arguments 16% were reported to have had ‘very large profit growth’, however for emotional campaigns a staggering 29% were reported to have had ‘very large profit growth’. So, there you have it. Emotions are good for business and combining that with distinctiveness (in other words, being brave enough to use a wider range of emotions) could be a winning formula.

To find out more about the world’s first behavioural science book specific to retail and hospitality, head here.

Understanding Behavioural Science - The Impact Of Our Emotions

Abbie Dawson

Marketing Manager at Startle. I'm in charge of our marketing activity, making sure to spread the word of Startle to as many brands as possible. When I'm not working, you'll find me vinyl shopping to add to my collection or working out at the gym (usually making enemies with a punching bag).

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