Emotions: Functions and significance for attitudes, behaviour and communication

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Emotions are regularly cited as vital components of effective strategic communication. However, there is relatively little guidance about how emotions should be used. Eliciting emotions is key to persuasion because attitudes have a cognitive and emotive component, with predictable physiological outcomes that make messages more resonant and impactful on behaviour, supporting policy objectives. This article shows that communicators—in the field of migration and beyond—should choose their campaign’s emotional frame according to their desired physiological and behavioural reaction. This article applies the emotion schema of Plutchik to offer 32 separate emotions and their theorised physiological reactions, examples of stimuli, and behavioural societal effects. Furthermore, emotional outcomes can be altered via narratives, frames, personal-based messages, facial expressions and body language, aesthetics, ordering (‘emotional flow’), intensities, and combinations. Finally, the limits of emotion-based communication—not least the ‘appeal to emotion’ logical fallacy—and how to overcome those limits—grounding emotion-based communication in facts, values, identities, and efficacy—are considered. Emotion-based communication in the field of migration, although widely used, is largely untested so communicators should test different approaches but also can take lessons from fields such as corporate, health, and climate change communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–20
Number of pages20
JournalMigration Studies
Issue number1
Early online date3 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • emotions
  • migration
  • persuasion
  • Plutchik
  • strategic communication

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