Modes of Persuasion - Pathos

Pathos is the emotional influence of the speaker on the audience. Its goal is to create a favorable emotional affection of the audience towards the objective of the speech. The overall ability to achieve pathos is eliciting emotions. There are various ways to achieve an emotional reaction in the audience. In the antiquity there was a discipline about affects, it encompassed theory of arousing feelings during the speech and drafts for the classification of feelings.

In rhetoric, the arousal of feelings is associated with style, since only a certain use of language can create emotional reactions in the audience. Thus, the achieving of pathos is inter-weaved with the use of a certain style elements, strategies, e.g., figures of speech and style of the language.
The discussion of pathos is split into two main parts. One is concerned with modern research on persuasion and social psychology, the other deals with the rhetorical aspects of pathos. A summary and overview of the state of research in relevant areas and topics is given.

The Goal – Emotional Affection/Influence

The goal of pathos is to generate emotions in the audience that are favorable for the objective of the speech. The importance of emotions in decision-making is a difficult and controversial topic. The biologist Gerhard Roth claims that the “free will” is merely an illusion and that most decisions are taken unconsciously. Yet this view is not uncontested.

According to Roth, the human decision-making process is based widely on emotional and unconscious processes. The conscious mind is used merely for quite complex challenges, e.g., to assess complex situations, especially if they involve complicated time structures. Roth notes that every final decision is an emotional one, thus rationality and mind alone decide nothing. Additionally, the influence of the unconscious emotional part of the brain is not perceivable on the conscious level, thus it appears that ideas, thoughts, wishes, and plans appear out of nowhere. Since it is not endurable for the conscious mind that something appears out of nowhere, the conscious mind generates “explanations” (backwards rationalization). These rationalizations usually fit with the subjects self-perception and the expectations of the social environment.

The Ability – Eliciting Emotions

The eliciting of emotions can be achieved with style or exemplification on various levels. The speaker can use an illustration on the content-level, which causes an emotional reaction in the listener. A different way is when the speaker himself exemplifies the emotion he wants to elicit in the audience. Additionally, the speaker can use objects (or a representation of them) to generate certain emotions, e.g., trough the demonstration of a pierced body, like Marc Antony did in his Caesars funeral speech: (The Funeral of Julius Caesar)

Carried away by extreme passion, he uncovered the body of Caesar, lifted his robe on the top of a spear, and shook it aloft, pierced with the dagger thrusts, and red with the Dictator’s blood. Whereupon the people, like a chorus, mourned with him in a most doleful manner, and from sorrow became again filled with anger.

The Persuasion Model

Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell provide a model on persuasion in their book Propaganda and Persuasion. They define persuasion as “a complex, continuing, interactive process in which a sender and a receiver are linked by symbols, verbal and nonverbal, through which the persuader attempts to influence the persuadee to adopt a change in a given attitude or behavior because the persuadee has had perceptions enlarged or changed.” [Jowett, Garth; O’Donnell, Victoria: Propaganda and Persuasion: p. 31] Their focus is in a larger time frame, but the techniques and topics are similar or equal to that of a speech.
A recipient of a message “relates to, or contrasts the message with, his or her existing repertoire of information, experiences, or both.” [Jowett; O’Donnell: p. 32] The speaker needs to relate to something that the audience already believes. Such elements are called anchors. “Anchors can be beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviors, and group norms.” [Jowett; O’Donnell: p. 33]

The main anchors are as follows:

  • Beliefs are perceived links between any two aspects that exist in a person’s world. An example for a belief could be: “I think that leadership is a highly neglected skill in Europe.”
  • Values are special kinds of beliefs. They usually do not change and are of personal nature, thus people react strongly if these values are attacked or questioned.
  • “An attitude is a readiness to respond to an idea, an object, or a course of action.” Attitudes are expressed with statements that clarify a position: “I like a challenging environment.”
  • Behavior provides a good anchor for motivation to repeat or change certain actions.
    “Group norms are beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors derived from membership in groups”

Anchors work best with concrete examples like exemplifications. They are used with content that relates and creates strong emotions in the audience. Addressing values is useful influencing the audience on an emotional level. An argument that is logical and creates strong emotions is attributed for its emotional reaction to pathos and for the argumentation to logos.


Style is the artful use of words and word sequences to create an intended effect. It encompasses principles like linguistic usage and the use of adornment. In the discipline of rhetoric, style is seen as an important aspect when it comes to the emotional appeal of a speech. Yet, scholars of other fields are critical about the effect of style.

A typical part of adornment is the use of adjectives. The psychologist Rolf Sandell found in his research on style and persuasion that the “most consistent finding in the different analyses is the involvement of adjectives.” [Sandell, Rolf: Linguistic Style and Persuasion: p. 127, London, 1977.] He argues that these may have two aspects one would be the descriptive value, whereas the other is “to create a favourable or at least suggestible mood on the part of the receiver.” Sandell concludes: “It is true that style effects may not be very large on a general, across-individuals, scale, and they must certainly be assumed to be of marginal importance in relation to content factors effects. On the other hand, marginal effects may at times be of decisive importance.

The main aspects of style in written and spoken word has not changed since the antiquity according to Mayer, since modern guides use similar standards and guidelines as the rhetoricians of the antiquity. The main criteria for a “good” style is its functionality. Such an element may even be a “incorrect” according to grammar or other rules. One may feel reminded of the slogan “think different”.

In this work, style is aligned with pathos, some authors like Mayer, aligned it with logos. Gideon Burton gives an excellent overview about why there is a controversy to which appeal style should be attributed: (full article – Style)

Style is often aligned with pathos, since its figures of speech are often employed to persuade through emotional appeals (see Figures of pathos). However, style has just as much to do with ethos, for one’s style often establishes or mitigates one’s authority and credibility (see Figures of ethos). But it should not be assumed, either, that style simply adds on a pathetic or ethical appeal to the core, logical content. Style is very much part of the appeal through logos, especially considering the fact that schemes of repetition serve to produce coherence and clarity, obvious attributes of the appeal to reason. There are also specific figures of speech that are based upon logical structures such as the syllogism (See Figures of Reasoning).

The Virtues of Style

provide a basis for an analysis of the style of a speech, since they provide a general scheme, which can be used to qualify a speech. Additionally, the principals are universal as they can be applied today and with different languages. There are different opinions about what constitutes the virtues of style. Joachim Knape states that originally there were three basic principles (latinitas, perspicuitas, aptum) and others, like the brevitas were often added. Yet, Lausberg refers to the common system of virtues to be composed by one grammatical virtue and three rhetorical virtues: latinitas, perspicuitas, ornatus, and aptum. What follows is an overview about the virtues stated by Knape. The virtue ornatus is discussed in detail further below.

Purity/Correctness (latinitas) is the prerequisite for an artful expression. The speaker needs to adhere to the conventions of grammar, syntax, and pronunciation. Yet, these factors are more a prerequisite for good style rather than good style itself.

Clarity (perspicuitas, claritas): Clarity aims for intellectual comprehensibility. Simply put, it is a claim for clarity of speech. The clarity must be present in individual words and group of words. Thus, the speaker has to use common words, unambiguous expressions, and clear sentence structures, to name a few examples.

Propriety (aptum) – The style should be appropriate, according to Aristotle this means that ethos, logos, and pathos should be coordinated with the topic of the speech. The main factors that determine the propriety are the issue, person, time, or time of the speech. The importance of propriety is that style is relative and dependent on the context. This is also underlined by the findings of Sandell: “In terms of style, power is with him who is able to vary it rather than with him who has any particular style, upper-class or whatever.”

Brevity (brevitas): Brevity is an important style, yet it must be adjusted so that it does not limit clarity.

The Adornment (ornatus)

in rhetoric is not only about aesthetics. It also has functional aspects like making the spoken word more catchy. Lausberg refers to it as the highest of the virtues. Similar to clarity there are two levels of adornment, the level of word and that of word groups. The second are better known under the term figures of speech.

Stylistic means on a verbal level can produce an emotional appeal. This is due to the sound effects (like rhythms) that are noticed (unconsciously) and the images that are created in the recipients mind with analogies (metaphors, etc.). In the antiquity there was a special set of such stylistic means called figures of speech. Here you can find a comprehensive list of figures of speech.


are particles that have the function of expressing an emotion, imitate a sound, and/or utter a short command. Typical examples of interjections are: “ahh”, “yuck,” “hmm,” “uh,” etc.

Story Telling

is part of the daily communication experience. Thus, one effect of story telling is the recreation of a more casual situation during a speech. Therefore it is used to give a personal touch, create curiosity in the audience, or bring a vivid example.

The persuasive effect of story telling is long known. Already, Quintilian mentioned that the narration should not only provide new information, but that the audience should be convinced with it. A story allows the speaker to raise emotions “naturally” and also present the solution to the problem in an indirect manner in the form of the outcome. Stories have a strong connection towards our childhold memories, thus it is assumed that listening to a story reduces the possibility and/or willingness to immediately respond critically towards the content or message contained.

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