Which is more important: Emotion or Logic?

A few years ago I was watching a film about the violinist Ithzak Perlman visiting China. It was shortly after Mao had died and China was just beginning to open up to the world.

Music students had just recently been able to start studying Western classical music again. They wanted the opinion of the world’s greatest violinist on their progress. So they asked him to tell them what he considered the most difficult violin piece. So that they could learn it, and play it for him to give them feedback.

He recommended a piece by Paganini. The Chinese students learned it and practised it until they were perfect. When Perlman arrived the recital began with their best student playing the Paganini piece straight through.

When he finished he asked Perlman what he thought of it, and where he could improve. Perlman said, “It was excellent. Could you just try it again with a little more….emotion?” The student looked puzzled, he said, “Please tell me which notes were wrong.” Perlman said, “None of the notes were wrong, but could you try it with a little more…..feeling.”

The student still didn’t understand, “Was it too fast or too slow, what was wrong?” Perlman said, “No, nothing was wrong, everything was perfect. The only area for improvement was maybe a little more….emotion.” The student couldn’t get it.

If Perlman could tell him what he was doing wrong he would fix it. Perlman told him he wasn’t doing anything wrong. But there was something he could do to make it better. None of the Chinese could understand it. Everyone was confused and disappointed.

To the Chinese this was a rational process, it should be discussed rationally. It was a very fast, very complicated piece of music. All the notes had been played in exactly the order laid down, at exactly the right speed, but Perlman’s advice couldn’t be explained rationally.

And, yes, this is the problem. Someone recently sent me a paper claiming that emotional advertising works better than rational advertising. But is anything ever all reason or all emotion? All left brain or all right brain? All product or all brand?

Don’t they actually mean that advertising that mixes the emotional and the rational works better than a purely rational approach?

If you take the purely rational part out of Paganini you have no music. You have a lot of very emotional noises on a violin, but without the arrangement of notes and the logical progression of fingers on a violin you have no underlying melody.

Surely the advertising that works best has an underlying logic, delivered in a way that resonates emotionally? The philosopher David Hume said, “Reason is the slave of the passions.” In other words, reason alone doesn’t make us want to do anything.

Emotion makes us want to do something. Reason tells us whether we can do it, if we should do it, and how to do it.

We react to advertising like everything else in life: Desire/Permission. The desire always precedes permission the way emotion always precedes reason. But reason can be experienced emotionally.

When someone makes an extremely persuasive rational case with passion, our reaction can be emotional. Even if we don’t fully understand the logic we might feel persuaded.

I once asked one of our planners, Emily James, how she bought a car. She said she would ask her father and brother’s advice, who were extremely rational about these things.

Now you might think a purely rational ad wouldn’t work on a woman. But it may work on her father and brother, who would influence her decision.

Ithzak Perlman didn’t want the student to throw out the rational and replace it with the emotional. He wanted the student to add the emotional to the rational.

We need a strategy and an execution. We need impact and involvement. We need emotion and reason. We need them in different amounts, expressed in different ways, in different circumstances.

I was talking to a very senior suit (or frock) the other day, Sonia Sheta. Sonia’s an interesting racial mix: Anglo-Indian and Egyptian. She was telling me that her relatives are fascinated when they come to London.

They say, “What a strange country this is. The rich people are thin and the poor people are fat.” Their logic is that rich people can afford to be fat, so why are they thin? And how can poor people afford to be fat?

Our logic is that rich people can afford to choose, and they choose to be thin. Poor people have no choice, they have to be fat.

Human beings are too complicated for simple one-size-fits-all solutions. We can’t just kneejerk into the solely emotional or the solely rational.

  • http://

    Hi Dave,

    Years ago I took an Open University Psychology degree course. I used to give the tutors hell. Not by choice, but because I have an enquiring mind. Scientists don’t like people like me because I ask unusual questions. Psychological theory tends towards number crunching, and is very dull and boring. This is a real problem.

    For many years Scientists have run away from the emotional, and yet in most circumstances it is the emotional they are measuring, and they do it with lead boots on because they clumsily chose to ignore that human beings are emotional creatures motivated by other emotional creatures. Instead, they have opted for the easy option of donning a white coat, sterilising everything down to laboratory conditions, and arriving at the perfect ‘Chinese conclusion’.

    Scientists love to prove everything with rock solid fact, and when the facts fail them they start to wobble because long held and stroked pet theories suddenly become jelly and end up getting thrown out of the window with the rabbit’s foot.
    Facts are the scientitst’s comfort zone. The soft underbelly.

    Other people call that progress, yet even the most progressive minds find self-will an unsurmountable mountain when it comes to intellectual pride and accepting that yes, even they, perhaps, may have been wrong (once).

    Why do large companies over-rationalize everything to the ‘Nth degree?
    Human beings are best at being human. Years ago when working on MFI, we discoverd nobody had bought anything thay week from a round of national full page ads that sold like hotcakes for the eight preceeding weeks. Vic Afia, the old one-armed art director turned round to me and laughed as he tucked into his sandwiches and said: “Well it’s been raining for 7 weeks, and this weekend we’ve had glorious sunshine. I dont know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be cooped-up in a shop buying this crap when it’s a nice sunny day outside”.

    It was one of those cheese sandwich moments.

    Unfortunately this seems to be the hardest thing to penetrate some corporate minds.
    Nobody wants to enjoy a cheese sandwich moment. Some of the best ads have happend it situations like this.

    Someone recently asked me is there a difference between the brain and the mind.
    I replied:” Yes. The brain is the hard drive and the mind is the software”.
    What this enables the brain to do is play “Doom” whilst listening to Mozart, or place a fish supper in the microwave having just fed “living Goldfish posters” all day.

    The separation, distinction, and juxtapostion of Emotion and Logic in the right hands are very powerful tools. In the wrong hands they are disastrous, and this is what is missing today with so many clients wanting to control everything. Imagine a game of football where the referee stops the game because he doesn’t like the pantone colour on one of the team’s shirts. It’s ridiculous, and it’s bad for the industry.

  • As Blaise Pascal would remark: “Two extremes: to exclude reason, to admit reason only”.

  • http://

    Hi hidden persuader,
    Isn’t all life ‘Pascal’s Wager’?
    I know what I want, now what’s the smartest way to get it.

  • http://

    “For many years Scientists have run away from the emotional…”
    Hi, Kevin.
    What a shame that you are not familiar with the massive amount of scientific research on emotions over recent decades. Start with Edmund Rolls. Read all the papers he references. Make sure you cover all of Damasio’s work. And, fwiw, William James was looking at it more than a century ago and science (inlcuding psychology) has been developing some excellent thinking on it ever since. When you’ve finished reading it all, I’d very much welcome some discussion around your “unusual questions”. I hope most OU tutors would too.

  • http://

    “What a shame that you are not familiar with the massive amount of scientific research on emotions over recent decades. Start with Edmund Rolls…”

    S.P.: RE What a shame…

    A science of single instances, such as economies or persons, is hardly a science. And though I have not read Prof. Rolls’ work (100’s of articles per Wikipedia, most of it truly fascinating and well-meaning I am certain, and no reflection on you), my coming-in perspective is that he could not even begin to explain the disrespect and outright cheek displayed in your post here. Nor could I. Nor could behavioral science explain the comeuppance you seem to demand from others. Is it lonely in there? Maybe you could help me out and summarize Prof. Rolls’ thoughts on “computational neuroscience” and explain why anyone would willfully do themselves such harm socially as the tone of your post suggests you do to yourself on a regular basis.

    What a shame that reading all the good professor’s works has so far not helped you locate a very large area of capital-D “Denial” somewhere in that brain. I leave for vaca for one week and look what happens – a troll! And it was such a nice discussion priot. I’ll permit you to have the last word, and then can you pleas go back under your bridge?


  • http://

    Michael, just back from holidays myself. I’m sorry you read my post in the way you did. I was responding to the misapprehension that scientists have run away from the emotional. They haven’t – and it’s a pity that they haven’t done a better job of communicating what they’ve done.

    To go back to Kevin’s original point – it is a shame that the OU psychology material didn’t point people to all the scientific work on emotion. I think if Kevin had come across it he would have found it fascinating. As Michael says, there are 100s of articles. Many of them are tough going but many of them are very accessible. Michael, if you are interested, a good starting point is Rolls’ book “Emotion”.

    Meanwhile, I think the power of both negative and positive emotions is very clear to all of us.