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Apr 26, 2019

This is the first part of a series of four articles about the power of emotions and how to use them in recruitment.

There is nothing more powerful in the world than human emotion. Love and fear are our primary motivators in life. We can get out from our comfort zone (move to another part of the world etc.) for love, or we can be in that comfort zone (stay in one job or one city) forever because of fear. Emotions drive us, and they are a necessary ingredient to almost all the decisions we make in our lives. Emotions are also one of the primary reasons why consumers prefer brand-name products rather than non-brand-name products.

Emotions also play a role in recruitment; they influence whether a candidate is going to reply to a message, react to your job advert or accept your offer. Also, during the hiring process emotions could influence the hiring managers. Sociological research has repeatedly shown the significance of emotions and feelings when hiring managers make decisions about whom to hire. Even though managers think of themselves as rational, they often make their hiring decisions based on feelings rather than on facts (Miller/Rosenbaum 1997: 512).

Emotions seem to guide even the most professional personnel specialists when they match vacant job positions to one out of numerous job candidates (Voswinkel 2008). Usually ‘gut reaction’ in hiring refers to face-to-face job interviews, when personnel specialists judge candidates’ characteristics such as interests, motivation, positive attitude, work ethic or self-presentation (Lee/Wrench 1983: 26; Neckerman/Kirschenman 1991: 441). (source: Emotionalizing Organizations and Organizing Emotions)

Research reveals that consumers perceive the same types of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people. The richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representation the more likely the consumer will be a loyal user. Brands like Coca-Cola appeal to our emotions with their “share a Coke and a smile,” campaigns and even by putting people’s names on the Coke cans. (Source: The Art Of The Emotional Buy) And as Zig Ziglar mentioned many years ago, “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”

Emotions are our triggers that release neurotransmitters in response to a stimulus, the stronger reaction to a stimulus we have the bigger our reaction becomes. That why emotions are so powerful, they drive us, and they have effects on many things we do in our lives, and they have a significant impact on our motivation, the motivation to do most things in our lives. If you feel depressed your motivation is close to zero; if you are in love your motivation to do things is almost unlimited. Motivation and emotion are at work in relationships.

Types of Emotions

Psychologist Paul Eckman identified six basic emotions that he suggested were universally experienced in all human cultures. Together with Wallace V. Friesen, he recognized six basic emotions based on studying the isolated culture of people from the Fori tribe in Papua New Guinea in 1972. The emotions they identified were happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger.

Many other researchers confirmed that these emotions are universal for all human beings and they confirmed Paul Eckman’s theory.

Another psychologist, Robert Plutchik, created his “wheel of emotions” that worked something like the color wheel.


Emotions can be combined to form different feelings; much like colors can be mixed to create other shades. It’s also important to understand that feelings follow emotions. Feelings are based on subconscious responses to our emotions. These responses vary based on our mental associations, experiences, beliefs, and memories.

Plutchik’s wheel of emotions was created as a model to describe human emotions. He proposed that all people experience a basic set of eight primary or biologically primitive emotions. They directly relate to behaviors that help us adapt and improve our chances of survival. Our many and varied types of emotions stem from primary emotions, which vary in intensity and combine to make new emotions.

The eight sectors of Plutchik’s wheel show the primary emotions. Each state has an opposite. Emotions are related and increase in intensity as you move toward the center of the circle. Annoyance is a mild form of anger. Rage is intense anger. The white areas show the emotion that is related to the two emotions near it. For example, serenity and acceptance combine as love. (source: Types of Emotions and Feelings)

Recent Studies

Researchers at Glasgow University challenged the theory of six basic human emotions and suggested that there are only four basic emotions. Those emotions are: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted.

Their conclusion was reached by studying the range of different muscles within the face—or Action Units as researchers refer to them—involved in signaling different emotions as well as the time-frame over which each muscle was activated. This was the first such study to objectively examine the ‘temporal dynamics’ of facial expressions, made possible by using a unique Generative Face Grammar platform developed at the University of Glasgow. (source: University of Glasgow)

And to make it more complicated, another recent study from 2017 suggests that there are far more basic emotions than previously believed. Researchers (Alan S. Cowen and Dacher Keltner) identified 27 different categories of emotion in the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers also created an interactive map to demonstrate how all these emotions are related to one another.

By analyzing the distribution of reported emotional states, they uncovered gradients of emotion—from anxiety to fear to horror to disgust, calmness to aesthetic appreciation to awe, and others—that correspond to smooth variation in affective dimensions such as valence and dominance. (Source: Self-report captures 27 distinct categories of emotion bridged by continuous gradients)

Two Categories of Emotions

You can split emotions into two categories based on how activating (motivational/positive) or deactivating (discouraging/contrary) the emotions are.

Source: Control‐value theory: Using achievement emotions to improve understanding of motivation, learning, and performance in medical education

Emotions Influenced by Environment

Whether emotion is universal or social is a recurrent issue in the history of emotion study among psychologists. Some researchers view emotion as a common construct and believe that a large part of the emotional experience is biologically based. However, emotion is not only biologically determined but is also influenced by the environment. As Paul Eckman discovered, the six basic emotions that he suggested are universally experienced in all human cultures.

However, cultural differences exist in some aspects of emotions, one such important aspect of emotion being emotional arousal level. All affective states are systematically represented as two bipolar dimensions, valence, and arousal.

Arousal level of actual and ideal emotions has consistently been found to have cross-cultural differences. In Western or individualist culture, high arousal emotions are valued and promoted more than low arousal emotions. Moreover, Westerners experience high arousal emotions more than low arousal emotions.

By contrast, in Eastern or collectivist culture, low arousal emotions are valued more than high arousal emotions. Moreover, people in the East experience and prefer to experience low arousal emotions than high arousal emotions.

The mechanism of these cross-cultural differences and implications is also discussed. (Study: Cultural differences in emotion: differences in emotional arousal level between the East and the West)

Why Is All That Important?

Before you start working on your posts, articles, and especially marketing campaigns, you want to know what is going to work on people, what makes them tick. Which emotions are going to work and make them react?

Once you understand those six basic emotions, you can develop messages that use emotions to achieve particular objectives and drive specific results that you want. Understanding those emotions and what effect they have will make you a better storyteller, and you are going to stop posting “We are hiring posts” on social media. Your messages start driving results and getting attention.


In the next article, you will learn how to use emotion in recruitment.

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