What Are Emotions and How Do Emotions Work in Videos?

Why it is sensible to bet on feelings | © Photo: FreePik

In the past, a distinction was made between emotional and functional advertising. Today, this separation is considered obsolete. So is the distinction between emotions and feelings.

Product and brand must always be considered as an inseparable package in communication as well as in marketing. This is why the distinction between functional and emotional communication usually only makes theoretical sense. The only question that matters is: What is the appropriate positive emotion that I convey with film or video so that I successfully trigger the right feelings in the viewer?

You need to know

  • Emotions are as important to our actions as logic and reason, if not more important.
  • Feelings and moods are to be distinguished.
  • Emotion researcher Paul Ekman distinguishes between six basic emotions.
  • Emotions are neurologically and hormonally linked to our body’s reward system. They can be triggered by symbols, storytelling and senses.

What are emotions?

Emotions and feelings accompany us at every turn. Feelings influence, determine and change our behaviour. And as we all know, that doesn’t always make sense or follow logic.

For this reason, the ancient Greeks were of the opinion that feelings hindered human thinking. It was not until Darwin and Freud that the view of emotions began to change fundamentally. Darwin saw feelings as a vital characteristic of living beings, Freud as a message from the subconscious.

Modern research supports both points of view. But it goes much further than that.

Emotions are now understood as a complex pattern of change. This as a result of a situation that we perceive as important and significant. Emotions are a reaction to something. They can be measured as physical reactions and analyzed as processes and behaviors.

Emotions thus have an influence on many important behaviors. In addition to the most important element, motivation as an element for triggering action, this also includes:

  • Attention
  • Decisions
  • Thinking processes
  • Communication
  • social ties
  • Perception

Many psychologists believe that emotions are only partially conscious and therefore controllable.

To be sharply distinguished from this is the question of how we deal with emotions – which, unlike the formation of emotions, can very well be learned and controlled by humans.

What are feelings?

In the past, a distinction was made between inner and outer worlds of emotional perception. Feelings were what the person felt inside. Emotions conversely that which was outwardly perceptible of this feeling to other people. At the same time, feelings were assigned to the unconscious, while emotions could be consciously perceived by their bearer.

This delineation is no longer common today and is outdated. Feelings and emotions are almost the same everywhere. The only thing that has remained the same is the difference to the moods.

The demarcation from moods

A mood, unlike an emotion or feeling, is not related to a person or thing and is not a reaction to a specific incident. The mood (the extended term mood states it more clearly) is not short and intense, but long lasting.

A mood is therefore used as a definition for a longer lasting need. Emotions and feelings, on the other hand, for a shorter-lasting need.

The first question – the importance of which should not be underestimated – must be: Is a video intended to appeal to emotions/feelings or a need as a PR or marketing measure?

No decision without emotions

Current research agrees that no decision is made without emotion.

The simplest explanation there is for this: Our sensory organs, our education, and our memories and experiences consciously and unconsciously convey so much information to us that it is impossible to make a rational decision within a reasonable period of time.

This applies to supposedly simple questions as well as to difficult problems.

Man always gets the strongest impulse to act through feelings.
Carl von Clausewitz

In the digital world, where we can get an almost infinite amount of information and input on almost anything you can think of through the internet and social media, quick decisions are increasingly becoming a competitive advantage.

Artificial intelligence, self-learning software and Big Data only help to a limited extent. Because in the end, a decision has to be right for us. It only does so if it is perceived in our brain as a “good decision”.

Facial expressions and gestures, both determined by feelings, play at least as important a role in our perception as reason and logic, because they are much more difficult to control (and manipulate) in spontaneous interaction. Our brain therefore evaluates them as a decisive indication of genuineness and authenticity. This is another reference to the old adage: pictures speak louder than words.

The six basic emotions according to Paul Ekman

It is not only for marketing and communication that the question arises to what extent emotions are universal.

Does every person in the same situation feel the same? Are feelings individual or can they be objectively catalogued?

The evolutionary scientist Darwin was already looking for answers. He concluded in 1872 that a number of types of emotion are common to all people, but others differ.

One hundred years later, the American psychologist and emotion researcher Ekman presented a scientifically proven catalogue of human emotions. He called these basic feelings, which are valid for all people, basic emotions. Ekman thus became one of the most important and influential emotion researchers.

The six basic emotions according to Paul Ekman are:

  1. Joy (Happiness)
  2. Surprise
  3. Rage
  4. Grief
  5. Disgust (English: Disgust)
  6. Fear

From today’s perspective, it is striking that only one of these feelings, that of joy, is clearly positive.

The role of mirror neurons

Laughter is contagious. There is a scientific explanation for this.

For the human species (but also for many animals) it was and is essential for survival to be able to communicate free of misunderstandings even without sophisticated language and long explanations. Because only in this way

  • can ensure coordinated behaviour in a group in the face of danger,
  • social interactions such as the feeling of affection or love can be conveyed to the counterpart
  • and creates a sense of “we” in a social structure.

This is made possible by emotions, combined with mirror neurons. These are nerve cells that read mimic emotions from other people without our active intervention in a split second and transfer the information they contain to ourselves.

Mirror neurons recognize a visual pattern that corresponds to a separate activity stored in the brain. Although we only passively observe a person’s facial expressions, mirror neurons transfer the feeling to us as if we had experienced the cause and trigger of this emotion ourselves.

This applies to joy as well as to fear and an infinite number of differentiated sensations.

Gifted actors are masters of this transfer of emotion. This is one of the reasons for the power of their art of performance and the fascination that their talent arouses in us.

Facial Action Coding System (FACS)

As a researcher, of course, Ekman was not satisfied with just six basic emotions. He created a huge catalogue of emotions together with W.V. Friesen. Each of these emotions was recorded as facial expressions and their validity was verified in tests in different population groups. Even primitive peoples were conscripted into testing the validity of this catalog.

This resulted in – fasten your seatbelts please! – a collection of over 10,000 facial expressions, all carefully catalogued and defined. They became a worldwide standard as FACS, the abbreviation for Facial Action Coding System.

He who sows feelings, reaps feelings!
Gabriel Palacios

FACS was used from the seventies onwards wherever non-verbal communication played a decisive role. For example, in psychotherapy, in surgical facial reconstruction and cosmetic surgery, but also for feature films.

The makers of Pixar’s “Toy Story”, the world’s first fully animated feature film, used the Faction Action Coding System to give their digital heroes emotions and thus life.

Emotions as a memory and reward system

All basic emotions are based on either attraction or aversion (repulsion). A feeling is perceived as pleasant or as unpleasant.

Emotions are feedback about where I am in terms of achieving a goal.
Dr. Christian Scheier

Positive or negative emotions are stored in our memories. That’s good and bad. This is because they can be easily triggered with key stimuli. But, conversely, impulses that are sloppy and carelessly set can also trigger the wrong feelings.

A positive emotion is based on a positive experience. If this is the case, the human body releases hormones. The synapses in our brain remember them, which is why when we do something that is perceived as comparable, we automatically have positive feelings again.

Science distinguishes three types of pleasure and hormones:

  1. Anticipation and the famous “tingling in the belly” is triggered by dopamine
  2. Satisfaction (comparable to praise) results from the release of endorphin
  3. Bonding and trust are based on oxytocin.

Transferred to the needs of communication, marketing and PR, this means: The more precisely the emotion is defined that one wants to trigger with a measure, the more successfully the emotions can be planned audiovisually in a video concept and addressed and triggered in the viewer.


Feelings and emotions are essential for communication. The best way to trigger emotions is through storytelling. Always provided senses and key experiences of the viewer are addressed.

Ideally, emotions are combined with depth of content (see also the article: How many kilograms of emotion does a video need per minute?) Video and film are virtually predestined for this.

Moving images can address these three success factors for transporting emotions in a much shorter time than, for example, a text or a photo.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Volker Reimann
About Volker Reimann 26 Articles
Mag. Volker Reimann ist TrendScout für virtuelle Realität, Games und interaktives Bewegtbild. Er ist überzeugt davon, dass bald schon über gezielte Nervenstimulation realitätsnahe Projektionen direkt in das menschliche Hirn möglich sind.

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