Recognizing Emotional Manipulation In Essays


Many different kinds of essays appeal to readers’ emotions. Tobais Wolff’s remembered event essay may be terrifying to some readers, David Nooman’s profile of brain surgery may be shocking, Donell Meadows’s position paper may anger fans of talk show host Rush Limbaugh whom she cartelizes as “funny and pompous and a scape-goater and hatemonger.”

The Writer often tries to arouse emotions in readers, to excite their interest, make them care, move them to take action. There’s nothing wrong with appealing to readers’ emotions. What’s wrong is manipulating readers with false or exaggerated appeals. As a critical reader, you should be suspicious of writing that is overly or falsely sentimental, that cites alarming statistics and tries to enrage readers with frightening anecdotes, that demonizes others and identifies itself with revered authorities, that uses symbols (flag waving) or emotionally loaded words (like racist).

King for example uses the emotionally loaded word paternalistically to refer to the white moderate’s belief that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” In the same paragraph, King uses symbolism to get an emotional reaction from readers when he compares the white moderate to the “Ku Klux Klanner.” To get the reader to accept his ideas, he also relies on authorities whose names evoke the greatest respect, such as Jesus and Lincoln. You might consider the discussion of black extremists in paragraph 7 of the king except to be a veiled threat designed to frighten readers into agreement. Or you might object that comparing king’s crusade to that of Jesus and other so-called leaders of religion and political group is pretentious and manipulative.

Following are some fallacies that may occur when the emotional appeal is misused:

· Loaded or slanted language, when the writer uses language that is calculated to get a particular reaction from readers.

· Bandwagon effect, when it is suggested that great numbers of people agree with the writer and if you continued to disagree, you would be alone.

· False flattery, when readers are praised in order to get them to accept the writer’s point of view.

· Veiled threat, when the writer tries to alarm readers or frighten them into accepting the claim.

Testing for knowledge:

Writers often try to persuade readers to respect and believe them. Because readers may not know them personally tor even by the reputation, writers must present an image of themselves in their writing that will gain their readers’ confidence. This image cannot be made directly but must be made indirectly through the arguments, language, and the system of values and beliefs implied through the arguments, language, and the system of values and beliefs implied in the writing. Writers establish credibility in their writing in three different ways:

· By showing their knowledge of the subject

· By building common ground with readers

· By responding fairly to objections and opposing arguments