How Emotions Influence What We Buy

 First we sense it. Then we know what it is. Finally we feel what it means.


People believe that the choices they make result from a rational analysis of available alternatives.

In reality, however, emotions greatly influence and, in many cases, even determine our decisions. In his book, Descartes Error, Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, argues that emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions.

Damasio tree from basic reflex to social emotions

When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences which lead to our decision. Damasio’s view is based on his studies of people whose connections between the “thinking” and “emotional” areas of the brain had been damaged. They were capable of rationally processing information about alternative choices; but were unable to make decisions because they lacked any sense of how they felt about the options.

The influential role of emotion in consumer behavior is well documented: fMRI neuro-imagery shows that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features, and facts). Advertising research reveals that emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content — by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads.

Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that the emotion of “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.

Studies show that positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments which are based on a brand’s attributes. Emotions are the primary reason why consumers prefer brand name products.

After all, many of the products we buy are available as generic and store brands with the same ingredients and at cheaper prices. Why do we decide to pay more for brand name products?

The problem In our brain the part that processes emotions, the Limbic System, is much older than the rational part, the Neocortex.


brain limbic system

The two sides are not connected efficiently and work separately. The limbic system reacts to the environment in a fast and automatic way. The rational part that concerns language, decisions and planning does not have direct access to the emotional part.

When we ask someone what emotion he felt at a certain time or watching a video we have to consider that “affective responses often lead to memory trade-offs, enhancing memory for select features of an event while impairing memory for other aspects” as Elizabeth A. Kensinger an associate professor of psychology at Boston College stated here.

It is very difficult, even for psychotherapists, succeed in understanding the emotions experienced by their patients, so ask what emotion do you feel while watching this video is not the right way to understand people reaction, too many bias, errors, social influence.

How can we really understand people?

The CrowdEmotion solution

By testing with the more accurate method available in real time the emotional signals people send while doing any activity.

We can have a real time pictures of what are the emotional experiences of people, we can do it in remote so in a natural environment, without the need to ask questions or to involve the cognitive part of the brain.