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Why we need to talk about emotions

Why we need to talk about emotions

Why we need to talk about emotions

In Article — By Marta Cecconi — 24.08.2017

A unplanned journey into the magic world of emotions, between marketing, neuroscience and business.

In my marketing class at ISIA Firenze the Professor taught me about emotional branding.
He described it as the modern stage of branding, where the designer has the role to develop new ways and tools to create empathic relationships between the company and the users.
In this frame, emotions are a goal and a tool: their emergence is designed and it is essential to change perception, share directions for the future and obviously to influence market-behaviours in the present.
At that time I didn’t go deeper into the matter, I was just disappointed about the triumph of positive emotions. The feelings involved in the brand relationships were always about love, fun and safeness. I remember that I imagined how a brand could create an active relationship with the audience through bad emotions.
And then I realized: umh, politics.


Then, I started my path into Near Future Design and I discovered an alternative way to match emotions and design. A way that I prefer. Frist of all, emotions are a research data: what people express in their public life is a tool to read pattern in the present. What is considered to be safe? What is frightening? Looking at the emotions express by a carefully selected sample of people could be useful to understand their approach to reality. Then, emotions are a key tool to understand how people approach their futures. In a design fiction emotions are always involved, because it is an immersive experience.
No matter which emotions are involved, the goal is not to cause specific feelings, we just know that emotions are the prerequisite to radical reflections and passionate opinions.

Real-time biometric data were used to track emotions during The Revenant screening

Until I met the Professor Alessandro Bertirotti I hadn’t evaluated emotions from the neuroscience point of view. Then, I tried to understand the topic better, I read some books and articles about emotional intelligence and the biological process that brings emotions in our brain.
Ok, I’m not good at scientific stuff, and surely I understood a tiny part of the matter. But I want to share some reflections about why it is important to talk about emotions today, as designers and citizens. Take it as a starting point.

First point: Emotions are data

Humans (and other living beings) are daily producers of emotions. Our technology is already able to capture and read emotions as information, through Natural Language Processing, Physiological Measurement or Facial Tracking (and very soon from the sound of voice, skin tattoos or time between heartbeats ). Tracking emotions is a business, in which we have a main role: the unaware producers of raw materials. I could give you many examples , but I’d like to give one by my favourite research field: education.
Emotions aren’t new to education, many psychologists and pedagogists worked on the influence between emotions and learning, and it is proven that when the amygdala is involved we better memorized experiences and concepts. In the evolution of the education system towards a total personalized learning, emotions will surely have an important role. The learning playlists will soon be based on the feelings of the students. No more boring lessons. And if you are sleepy maybe we can provide to a micro-electro shock chair. Ok, stop dystopian scenarios, the present is enough.

A "face reader" used to determine the level of interest in a class
Second point: Emotional skills are an efficiency index

I know that our is a work-centred society. So, I wasn’t surprised when in my readings I found that emotions match with working ability. In his book Emotional Intelligence (EI), Goleman wrote about studies that show how individuals with well-developed emotional skills are also more likely to be happy and effective in life, being able to adopt mental attitudes that increase their productivity.
Even if the job performance/emotional intelligence correlation is questioned, it’s pretty sure that good mood increases the ability to think flexibly and to solve problems.
Now, let me ask you an imaginative leap: are you able to join this consideration with the ones that I told in the previous point?
The technical ability to track emotions could be correlate, on the workplace, to the workers’ productivity. Or maybe our serotonin levels could be checked during a job interview.

The Stanford marshmallow experiment, one of the first test that links EI and life outcomes
Third and last point: Emotions are a way to the future

Emotions play a key role on our cognitive brain. It is proved that in our brain, because of the evolution process and survival mechanism, in case of external stimulations the emotion came first than the ration. Emotions could change how we think and how we take decisions, even in long-term thinking.

“Studies conclude that human emotion, and not reason, plays the dominant role in voter decision-making, and that political strategists are increasingly taking advantage of such findings to target and manipulate voter decisions with emotional appeals contained in political advertising.”

So, the ability to understand emotions and to regulate emotions is fundamental to promote personal and social growth. Individuals with highly-developed emotional skills are also the more likely to hope.
Charles R. Snyder defined hope as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.
On their way toward the future, people with a high inclination to hope are more able to self-motivate, and to find the resources to achieve their goals and reassure themselves in difficult moments.

In a time where Big Data is a buzzword, and algorithms manage our life in ways that we barely realize, it’s quite important to start doing some questions. The tracking of emotions is possible thanks to the devices we use for other purposes.

And, on the other hand, our emotional expressions are among the most valuable data today, with large corporations harvesting them across the span of our lives to capture marketing, political, health, credit, financial, security and intelligence insights. In this process human beings are providers of emotional data just as cows are providers of milk.


So, it’s times to talk about emotions: to understand the way we prefer to be producers and consumers of emotions, to find out how to use our emotional ability to the benefit of society (inside or outside our workplace) and to develop our capacity to hope to find directions toward our desirable futures.

Marta Cecconi

Marta is the coordinator of the educational program of Nefula. She is also a near future designer interested in the evolution of the learning experience in relation with technologies and cognitive processes. She likes to grow and eat her own vegetables.


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