Most of us, at least initially, think our job as bloggers is to convey information. And of course it is, especially if we’re writing about science, where accuracy is essential.
But conveying information like a teacher, or a scientist writing for a peer-reviewed journal, is a guarantee a general audience will ignore you.
Counter-intuitive as it sounds, the only way to reach what scientists call our “cognitive centers” is through our emotions.
Why? It all has to do with how our brains evolved.
Three-Scoop Ice Cream Cone
Let’s vastly oversimplify how the brain evolved to see why this is true.
Think of the brain as a three-scoop ice cream cone.
The bottom, or most primitive scoop, is sometimes called the lizard brain. A collection of part designs put together from lizards, mice and even jellyfish (evolution never wastes anything that can be used again), this is the part of your brain that controls your heart rate and breathing and makes you duck when you see a ball coming at you.
It controls automatic functions so you don’t have to.
With the development of mammals came a second scoop. This scoop provided more memory, rudimentary emotions, and the ability to anticipate danger and avoid pain instead of just responding to them.
[NOTE: Pain is high on the list of things we try to avoid, and boredom is most definitely pain. People will do whatever it takes to avoid boredom, including leaving your blog after 10 seconds.]
If you have a dog, you know he operates quite happily with the first and second scoops of brain matter – plus an absolutely enormous collection of smell receptors: 220 million compared to your 5 million. When he can smell corpses and rescue earthquake victims, he doesn’t need to reason.
The last part of the brain to develop – the third scoop – is the part that lets us reason, play the violin, fly fighter jets, imagine the future, even detect lies. This is the part of the brain that evolved last.
Of course, in addition to these three ice cream scoops, the brain has left and right halves, each with four lobes that handle everything from sight to memory – plus the 100 billion neurons that carry information from one place to another so we can make sense of the world.
And Then There are Emotions
Emotions are processed by a collection of structures deep within the brain called the limbic system, which developed early and kept evolving.
But here’s the interesting thing: The greatest number of connections in our brains are between the thinking/sensing areas and the emotional ones.
Our brains fire electric impulses back and forth nonstop, at a bazillion miles an hour. And those electrical impulses “leak” as they travel down neujral pathways, so that everything directed at our intellects is shaped by our emotions.
For example. The eyes are at the front of the skull. But the brain’s visual cortex – where we interpret what we see – is at the back. The optic nerves that connect the two structures pass on either side of the brain’s emotional structures.
The effect is that emotions shape and color everything we see and hear. We may not see what we think we’re seeing, which is why optical illusions possible.
The More Advanced, The More Emotional
It turns out that the more evolutionarily advanced the animal, the more emotional the animal. We humans are the most emotional animals of all.
This is by no means a bad thing.
Emotions help us assess whether a situation is safe or dangerous. They help us make decisions. They’re crucial to learning, creativity and curiosity.
So as writers, we must know how to appeal to emotions. If we don’t, we’ll be ignored, matter how accurate the message.
How To Appeal to the Emotions
How should we use emotion to convey information?
Through stories. By showing, not telling. By using well-chosen details. By being personal. By using fiction-writing techniques like analogy and metaphor.
(I have an e-book in the works about how to use fiction-writing techniques to write about science. Stay tuned.)
The important thing is to use emotion to get your point across. A big plus? You’ll have more fun that way.