Logos, Ethos, Pathos – On identifiable victim effect and why it is more powerful even when you realize that you are biased

Aristotle’s ‘On Rhetoric’ has clearly explained the three modes of persuasion

  • Logos – Logos is logical appeal or the simulation of it, and the term logic is derived from it. It is normally used to describe facts and figures that support the speaker’s claims or thesis.
  • Ethos – Ethos is an appeal to the authority or credibility of the presenter.
  • Pathos – Pathos is an appeal to the audience’s emotions, and the terms pathetic and empathy are derived from it.

Is ‘Persuasion’ important? – Think about it! We do it every day and it is an essential part of our personal, corporate and social lives! May it be asking for date, getting a job or getting a vote!

You might logically think that as an educated person you tend to be persuaded only by logic. Is it so? Look at the images below. It is self-explanatory. All of us are emotional!I11

How powerful are these images? The Syrian civil war has been on the news for quite some time and has resulted in loss of several lives. However this one recent image has generated so much attention and hopefully results in positive action.


The reason for this irrational behavior (Responding to a single image and not to statistics) is due to Cognitive Bias and specifically – Identifiable Victim Effect.

“We care more about suffering when it is represented by one individual”

See these famous quotes below

“One Man’s death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” – Joseph Stalin

“If I look at the masses, I will never act. If I look at the individual, I will” – Mother Teresa

How much has the image of the Syrian toddler impacted people’s emotions? – There is tool that that I use to read people’s minds – “Google” and “Google Trends” gives us and insight of what people think or query.


Below is the result of query for ‘syrian refugees’. Needless to say it is very evident the amount of attention that this one picture has brought as compared to rest of the year.


Update [06-Sep-2015]

The graph got even more vertical! Update

Past 12 Months

Since 2004

Since 2004

Here comes the dilemma – Is ‘Pathos’ an ethical means of persuasion? Humans are rational and is not ‘Logos’ an ethical means to persuade people? We do dislike politicians when they use ‘Pathos’ to earn votes from the masses. How about the picture of the Syrian toddler. If not for this picture people would have never acted.

I am not concluding anything! Just a food for thought!

Credits: Dan Ariely, Google Trends, Collins and Taylor, Aristotle

Note: The author has interest in behavioral psychology with no academic credentials on the subject (except for a Coursera course!). Apologies if the content seems creepy or inhumane.

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