The Role of Emotions in Visual Storytelling

The Role of Emotions in Visual Storytelling

The Role of Emotions in Visual Storytelling 366 218 Shlomi Ron


From discussions with clients and colleagues, I am often surprised to learn that they are not aware of the critical role emotions play in shaping customer’s behavior.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “emotion” as:



“A conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.”

Emotions, like fear and love, are carried out by the brain’s limbic system, which is located in the temporal lobe.

The limbic system consists of multiple parts of the brain. The center of emotional processing is the amygdala, which receives input from other brain functions, like memory and attention.

Psychologist Paul Eckman identified six basic emotions:

1) Happiness
2) Sadness
3) Disgust
4) Fear
5) Surprise
6) Anger

There are many other classifications out there that dig deeper into more nuanced emotions.

Why all this important?

How are you identifying your customer’s right emotional trigger?

As the above infographic indicates, whenever you share new stories with your audience, your audience processes this content first through the Emotional Brain. Rationlization in the Logical Brain is much slower and always comes after.

We all do it automatically and effortlessly, which often commands this observation:

“You should think more about what you say than what you feel.”

In respect to the Emotional Brain, your customers are, in essence, matching your story’s key messages with their subjective past experiences and memories in order to extract meaning (good, neutral or bad).

In this context, this is where your customer’s “Lizard brain” springs into action. It’s that part in the brain that is responsible for primitive survival instincts such as aggression and fear (“flight or fight”).

This strong emotion allows your customer to experience your story as if she was with you at the event your story took place. The same region in your customer’s brain is activated as if your customer would smell or hear that particular odor or sounds in real life.  Psychology researcher Uri Hasson, describes this phenomenon as “Neural Coupling.”

That’s why it’s so critical to hit your customer’s right emotion at the beginning of your visual story; first two seconds of your video, first slide of your presentation, the eye-catching dominant element in your images and so on.

If you are able to trigger the right emotion that also generates a positive meaning in your customers’ minds, then, your customers will most likely make an effort to rationalize their emotion, trust your message and more prone to act on your call-to-action.

According to Fractl’s study “The Role of Emotions in Viral Content,” the most impactful recipes include:

  • Positive emotions along with surprise were found to result in massive shares
  • Pair ‘low-arousal’ emotions (sadness, relaxation, and depression) with admiration or surprise
  • Play up high-arousal emotions (anxiety, anger, and excitement) in unsurprising, negative content.

That said, the best approach is to find out what the right emotion would be for your audience. You find the right emotion to target in your visual stories by doing pre-launch comprehensive research to increase your visibility into the emotional dynamics of your customer’s inner world.

In conclusion, don’t ignore your audience true emotions towards your brand and product as they play a key role in your visual stories. Literally, upon first impression.

Ready to emotionally move your audience into action?
Call 305-985-3450 or email shlomi_at_visualstorytell_dot_com to learn more about how VSI’s Production Studio could help elevate your visual storytelling game.

Shlomi Ron

Co-founder, CEO at Visual Storytelling Institute. After 20 years of well-rounded digital marketing experience, having worked both on the agency and brand sides for Fortune 100/500 brands such as American Express, Nokia and IBM, Shlomi has co-founded the Visual Storytelling Institute (VSI) to help business leaders rise above the noise through the power of storytelling and the effectiveness of visual media. Shlomi's new book: Total Acuity: Tales with Marketing Morals To Help You Create Richer, Visual Brand Stories.

All stories by: Shlomi Ron
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