By: Aish Gunti
Emotions and rationality are fundamental elements of life, yet difficult to define and interpret because of their abstract nature. Thus scholars from all over the world from centuries have associated physical elements to understand such abstract concepts. A recent study showed the existence of conceptual metaphors and their association with rationality and emotion. For example, love is a journey where abstract domain of love is made meaningful by associating it with the concrete domain of the journey. “This metaphor might lead one to think of lover as a fellow traveler, or of a shared life goal as destination.”
“In The Wizard of Oz, The Tin Man desires a heart because of his lack of emotions and Scarecrow desires a brain as he lacks intelligence.”
For centuries, humans tend to associate two concrete body parts- the head and the heart- with the more abstract concepts of rationality and emotion, respectively. Thus over time people tend to develop a conceptual link of rationality with ‘up’ or ‘higher’ and emotion with ‘down’ or ‘lower.’ Scholars like Plato and doctrines like Neo-Platonism claim such association have had an immense impact on contemporary culture, affecting even the vocabulary such as ‘falling in love’, and ‘thinking on a higher plane’.
Although rationality and emotion as drivers of human behavior have been intensively studied in consumer behavior since 1994, their relationship with physical verticality has been in the limelight only since 2015. Physical height is a type of concrete experience that has been linked metaphorically to a number of abstract concepts, which include but not limited to power, valence, morality and rationality. Experiments have been conducted to study the existence and association of such metaphors and the verticality domain. Results show that rationality is associated with a higher positioning than emotion along the vertical dimension and such a match will generate a greater positive response.
How different would it be if the word ‘hope’ was at the top of picture rather than the bottom in iconic Hope poster of Obama’s 2008 campaign?
Literature from marketing corroborates with such finding by how a match between physical position and product information increases product evaluation. However, such metaphorical association between verticality and rationality/emotion will be attenuated when people become aware of associations or brands. Thus when a consumer views an ad for an unfamiliar product, he/she forms an opinion based on cues from the ad when compared to a familiar product or brand. In the ‘Hope’ poster, placing hope at the bottom matches with its strong emotional association may not had influenced people with prior strong opinions about Obama, however, led to more positive attitude for those who were undecided or less opinionated.
Association between verticality and rationality/emotion is bidirectional.
Association between verticality and rationality/emotion is bidirectional unlike other abstract domains such as power or morality which are unidirectional. Thus to create an emotional appeal for a product it is recommended to position it lower rather than higher. Likewise a lower placed position is subconsciously associated with emotional domain and not associated with the abstract domain of power, i.e., regardless of positioning, power is always considered higher.
However, caution is suggested when using such metaphors to imply desired abstract domain. Such metaphors exert maximum influence when introduced subtly rather than blatantly, thus deserving more attention.
Information obtained can be applied to all elements of marketing communication as all visual formats from a printed page to a smartphone are an integral part of the process to integrate vertical placement.
It is recommended for marketers to take into consideration rational-emotional association while deciding on vertical positioning of products or information. However, verticality may at times have less of an effect on interpretation when individuals are familiar with a brand.
In conclusion, history has proved the existence of metaphorical association of abstract domains like rationality/emotion with concrete domains like head/heart, respectively and this association is vertical and bidirectional. Unfamiliar stimuli usually have a higher positive response based on such association, whereas previously existing knowledge of familiar stimuli is taken into consideration for decision making. Future research could focus on a subtle introduction of metaphors for maximum response versus a blatant approach.
Cian, Luca., Krishna, Aradhna., Schwarz, Norbert. (2015), “Positioning Rationality and Emotion: Rationality Is Up and Emotion Is Down,” Journal of Consumer Research, Dec2015, Vol. 42 Issue 4, p 632-651.