Spotting logical losers

By  •  Updated: 10/19/22 •  4 min read

Let’s play a game.

In front of you are 4 decks of cards. 2 red, 2 blue.

You can draw from any deck and each card has an amount you win or lose.


Here’s what happens.

After a dozen or so cards your palms start to sweat, and your heart rate goes up a little, just not enough for you to be conscious of it.

Another 20 cards and you have a distinct feeling something is wrong.

20 more cards and you figure it out.

The decks are rigged.

The red cards seem balanced, but when you lose on red you lose a lot more.

Somehow your subconscious has spotted this before your logical brain did.

That’s what happened when a group of researchers from Iowa wired up players to a lie detector test which spots these under-the-skin spikes in emotional activity.

Then they repeated the experiment on brain damaged players.

Injured or recovering from the removal of brain tumors, these were functioning adults in all ways but one.

They have no emotional reactions available.

Eventually they figure it out, but they took more than half as long to stop playing the game than their “emotional” counterparts.

How “logical thinking” fails us

Most famous of these patients was a man known as “Elliott” that Antonio Damasio wrote about.

Elliott had been a successful father and businessman until the removal of a brain tumour damaged his emotional abilities.

From that point on, the decision-making that was so critical to his success collapsed.

He’d agnonize over decisions about how he should order the filing system in his office. Decisions about what sized folders to use would keep him occupied for hours.

He was doing what “logical thinkers”claim to do – considering every possible course of action.

He was failing because this exhausting practice kept him stuck on minutiae and not moving closer to his goals.

Damasio’s conclusion was simple.

Logic alone is an inefficient way to make decisions.

Heightened emotions help make faster decisions, and over the long term they’re often better than the drawn-out logical approach.

They’ll certainly help you make more decisions in the same space of time.

How buyers make decisions

Buyers make the same decisions based on their emotional feelings about a product, but they also need to build a logical argument to justify them to other people, particularly with large purchases that affected people around them.

Your sales messages need a logical component to them to build this argument, but without starting with an emotional pull, your reader will either pass you by, or fail to make a decision at all.

This raises a problem though

Our card game study showed us that people don’t know consciously why they make decisions, so getting them to explain purchases is a tricky task.

It makes research almost impossible, but we can listen to more than just words when we interview customers for market research.

When we hear emotional language, when we hear longer than usual stories about their struggles, and when we hear more animation in their voice we know we’re closer to the real reasons for buying than any dry, logical explanations.

How to bring these emotions into your sales messages

Hearing emotional stories form customers is one thing, but turning them into sales messages is another layer of skill, but it’s easier once you know what you’re looking out for.

One way I learned to pick out the emotional parts of the message was in a Copyhackers “Voice of the Customer” webinar that teaches how to turn customer interviews into copy.

The lightbulb moment starts from about 12:40 with the Maria Condo quote:

I’ll leave you to watch it yourself:

Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.