Using emotions to drive conversions

This blog post is based on Cugelman Emotion Map and draws heavily from his course,


bithika mehra

3 years ago | 3 min read

An emotion is a complex set of physiological changes in response to a perceived threat or opportunity. They’re automatic and mostly unconscious, which is why we’re never fully aware of all the changes we’re experiencing.

Emotions drive behavior or put another way motivation is an emotion that facilitates action. If you have read my previous post on Using Neuromarketing to Drive Conversions, you came across a fascinating study done by researchers at UT Austin where participants were shown photos of two chickens.

The research concluded that we are ruled by our emotions first, and then we build justifications for our response since we want to be considered scientific and rational.

So understanding emotions and designing with that in mind is key to giving users the right experience for them.

Cugelman’s Emotion Map

Cugelman’s emotion map is based on the “dimensional approach” wherein every emotion either boosts or lowers three dimensions: (1) arousal, (2) pleasure, and (3) control. Arousal is the level of physical and cognitive energy experienced which can span from feeling energized and focused on one hand to feeling lethargic and unfocused on the other hand.

The pleasure dimension describes how pleasurable or painful emotions feel. And finally, control describes how much power someone feels that they hold in any situation. When people possess more power or control, they generally feel calmer and more confident. With less power and control, people can’t fully predict the outcome of a situation, which can lead them to feel higher levels of stress.

Dr. Cugelman essentially divided these dimensions into four emotional quadrants as follows:

Simplified Cugelman emotion map

  • Optimistic: This quadrant of highly-arousing and pleasurable emotions is where people feel control, motivation and pleasure. These emotions compel users to act in anticipation of a reward.
  • Pessimistic: The quadrant with low-arousal, negative emotions and a lack of control is where people experience feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, shame, humiliation, pessimism, and lethargy which demotivate any action as users eventually give up.
  • Insecure: This quadrant with high-arousal and painful emotions is where users react to any threat of losing control, and experience emotions such as urgency, suspicion, vigilance, fear, stress, and anxiety. People describe these strategies as pressure tactics, and their primary drive comes from the emotions that underpin loss aversion.
  • Secure: The low-arousal positive emotions are where people let their guard down, within a context where they feel secure, grateful, trusting and generally content. This is where our target audiences or users trust us so much, that they feel secure and trusting interacting with our organization, and shift into a long-term trusting relationship which is known as loyalty. These are the emotions where we want our customers to reside, as these are the emotions tied to loyalty, and complacency. This is where you form long-term relationships with the people who matter to your organization.

What causes people to act is usually loss aversion (insecure emotions) and achievement (optimistic emotions). When people feel either very helpless or very secure, they are less likely to act.


Let’s look at how a company like Dollar Shave Club uses emotions on their homepage.

  • Incentive and rewards: By delving on personalization and providing incentives such as free shipping and rewards such as discounts, the page is encouraging users to sign up for their subscription offering by tapping into emotions in the “Optimistic” quadrant.
  • Loss aversion and powerlessness: DSC is targeting emotions in the “Insecure” quadrant by assuring the quality of their products (top-shelf), ability to cancel anytime and flexible shipping/ frequency.
  • Helpless: There is a persistent “Help” icon which is good but the quiz to get recommendations is great for first time buyers who are unsure of the right products for them. The quiz also further emphasizes the personalized nature of the offering.
  • Loyalty and retention: The home page also has cues such as the restock box and the use of the word “routine” targeting these emotions in the “Secure” quadrant.

This map is a great framework to evaluate websites and other digital products to see if they are “meeting” their user’s emotional needs to drive the right action. It is important that emotional cues are added based on extensive user research through surveys, interviews, user testing etc. as they could backfire and unintentionally demotivate users from acting.


Created by

bithika mehra







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