Appeal to Pity Fallacy (29 Examples + Description)

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Practical Psychology

You're scrolling through social media and stumble upon an emotional post asking for donations. The story tugs at your heartstrings, but is it manipulating your judgment? Let's shed light on a technique that plays on your emotions: the "appeal to pity."

An Appeal to Pity Fallacy is a type of argument that attempts to win you over by eliciting your sympathy or compassion, rather than relying on logical reasoning.

In this comprehensive guide, you'll learn about its historical roots, its presence in modern day advertising and politics, and strategies to spot and counter it. We'll also provide a bunch of the appeal to pity fallacy examples.

What is an Appeal to Pity?


An appeal to pity is a tool some people use to make you feel bad for them. They hope your sympathy will make you say yes to something you might otherwise say no to.

Imagine a friend who asks to borrow money and emphasizes how broke they are, instead of explaining why they need it. They're tugging at your heartstrings, trying to get an emotional yes from you.

In formal terms, an appeal to pity is a logical fallacy. A "fallacy" is a flawed argument. When someone uses a fallacious argument, they're not giving you good reasons to agree with them. Instead, they're using tricks to make their point seem better than it is. An appeal to pity does this by focusing on emotions rather than facts.

Fallacious arguments often lead to fallacious reasoning. People want to garner sympathy, and even if they have good reasoning, such appeals don't usually provide relevant evidence. In other words, wishful thinking makes the following argument based more on feelings than argumentation or logic.

When a person (or defendant) tries to persuade their audience or even a jury with fear or details of suffering, they are hoping to gain their support without having to provide an proof or an attempt at understanding.

Of course, this is more serious for a crime, but its relevance is important for anyone trying to argue a particular claim or opinion. Even if the emotional aspect is the truth, it doesn't necessarily lead to the best conclusion. It's wrong to try to manipulate people with this kind of statement.

Other Names for Appeal to Pity

  • Argumentum Ad Misericordiam Argument
  • Appeal to Compassion
  • Appeal to Sympathy

Related Logical Fallacies

The term "appeal to pity" has Latin roots, specifically the latin term Ad Misericordiam, which translates to "towards pity or compassion." This fallacy has been around for a long time, often cited in ancient Greek and Roman rhetoric.

However, it gained prominence in the modern world as people started to study the art of persuasion more closely. Although the name might sound fancy, the concept is simple: using emotional manipulation to get what you want.

29 Examples

1) The Failing Student


"You have to pass me, Professor. If I fail, my scholarship gets revoked."

The student is appealing to the professor's sympathy instead of focusing on academic merit. The argument ignores the possibility that the student might actually deserve a failing grade based on their performance.

2) Job Interview

"I should get the job because I've been unemployed for a year, and my family is struggling."

While this is a sad situation, it doesn't make the applicant more qualified for the job. The focus should be on skills and suitability for the position, not an irrelevant point about their personal situation.

3) Legal Defense


"My client can't go to jail; he's the sole provider for his family."

The argument tries to sway the judge by eliciting sympathy for the defendant’s family, instead of presenting a solid legal defense. The judge might grant house arrest in a case like this, but it doesn't belittle the crime.

4) Political Campaign

"Vote for me because I came from a disadvantaged background."

While the candidate’s story might be inspiring, it's not a valid argument for why they should be elected.

5) Advertising

"Buy these shoes. For each pair sold, we donate to orphanages."

The appeal to pity here distracts from the product's quality or its value proposition.

6) Pet Adoption

"Adopt this dog; otherwise, it will be euthanized."

The argument tries to guilt you into adopting, sidestepping questions about whether you're prepared to take care of a pet.

7) Online Reviews

five gold stars

"Give my book a five-star review. I'm a struggling author."

The plea for a good review is based on pity, not the book's quality.

8) Fundraising


"Donate now, or else we can't continue our work saving the endangered rhinos."

This might emotionally compel you to donate, but it doesn’t give solid reasons for why their approach is effective in saving rhinos.

9) Team Selection

"Put me in the game, Coach. I never get to play."

The player appeals to pity, ignoring their potential impact on the team's performance.

10) Parenting

"I deserve to get this toy because you never buy me anything!"

The child is trying to use the parent's guilt to get what they want, instead of giving a good reason for why they should have the toy.

11) Television Appeal

"Help this poor child in need. Just a dollar a day can change a life."

This TV commercial appeals to your emotions to get you to donate, without providing comprehensive data on how effective the charity organization is.

12) College Application

"I should be admitted because my parents never went to college."

This argument targets the admissions officers' sympathies but doesn't address the applicant's qualifications.

13) Borrowing Money

"Lend me $20; you know I've had a rough month."

The appeal to pity ignores the responsibility of repayment or why the money is needed.

14) Classroom Behavior

"Don't give me detention. My parents will ground me for a month!"

The student tries to use the teacher's pity to escape the consequences of their actions.

15) Store Return Policy

"I should be allowed to return this after 30 days. I was out of town for a funeral."

The customer’s sad situation doesn’t change the store’s return policy.

16) Restaurant Complaint

"I deserve a free meal because I'm going through a divorce."

While it’s an unfortunate life event, it has nothing to do with the quality of the restaurant’s service or food.

17) Art Competition

"Vote for my artwork. I put in so many sleepless nights."

The amount of effort, while commendable, is not the criteria for judging the quality of art.

18) Film Awards

"Give him the Oscar. He's been in the industry for 40 years and never won."

The appeal to pity doesn't address whether the actor’s performance was actually Oscar-worthy.

19) Speeding Ticket

"Officer, don't give me a ticket. I’m already dealing with so much stress."

The stress in someone’s life doesn’t negate the fact they were speeding.

20) Social Media Posts

"Like my photo; I never get enough likes."

Seeking validation through pity doesn’t make the content more likeable.

21) House Chores

"Can you do the dishes? I had such a long day at work."

While you may be tired, it doesn't automatically exempt you from shared responsibilities.

22) Business Investment

"Invest in my startup. I’ve mortgaged my house to fund it."

While it's a huge personal risk, it doesn’t speak to the viability of the business idea.

23) Customer Feedback

"Please don’t leave a bad review; this is my livelihood."

The business owner's livelihood should be improved by addressing customer concerns, not appealing to pity.

24) Event Participation

"Let me join your team; I never get picked for anything."

Personal insecurities shouldn’t determine team selections, skills should.

25) Club Membership

"I need to be a member because all my friends are in the club."

Being left out is not a valid reason for inclusion; suitability for the club should be the focus.

26) Therapy Sessions

"Don't charge me for the missed session; I'm going through a lot right now."

While personal problems are serious, they don’t change the therapist’s professional time and services.

27) Business Contracts

"Give us the contract; we're a small company competing with giants."

Being a small company isn't a reason to win a contract; the quality of work is what matters.

28) Sports Awards

"Let her win; she’s never won anything before."

Winning should be based on merit and performance, not pity.

29) Parental Discipline

"Don't ground me; you were young once and made mistakes too."

While parents have made mistakes, it doesn’t exempt the child from facing the consequences of their own actions.

The Psychological Mechanisms Behind It

Appeal to pity works by tapping into our basic human emotions, especially empathy and compassion. These emotions are hardwired into our psychology; they've helped us form social bonds and communities throughout history.

The fallacy leverages these instinctive responses, distracting us from logical reasoning. In essence, it plays on our desire to be kind-hearted and helpful, steering us away from asking critical questions that pertain to the issue at hand.

However, not all appeals to emotion are fallacious. Emotions do have their place in decision-making and can be a valid point to consider. The key difference lies in whether the emotional appeal is directly relevant to the argument or simply a diversion from it.

For instance, in a court case, the plight of a defendant's family may elicit empathy, but it should not outweigh the legal facts when determining guilt or innocence.

The Impact of the Appeal to Pity Fallacy

The impact of the appeal to pity can be subtle yet powerful. When successfully executed, it sways people's judgments and decisions based on sentiment rather than objective reasoning. This can be dangerous, leading to unjust outcomes, poor choices, and sometimes even exploitation.

For example, in politics, emotional storytelling can overshadow hard facts, leading to the election of less qualified candidates. Similarly, marketing campaigns often utilize emotional narratives to promote products, ignoring whether the products are actually beneficial or needed.

The appeal to pity can also have a longer-lasting impact on individual relationships. Constantly resorting to this fallacy can make conversations and negotiations emotionally draining and counterproductive. Over time, it can erode trust and the quality of decision-making within personal or professional settings.

How to Identify and Counter It

Recognizing an appeal to pity starts with being aware of your own emotional responses. When you feel a tug at your heartstrings, pause and consider whether the emotional appeal is relevant to the argument or decision at hand. If the emotion is serving as a smokescreen for the lack of logical grounding, then it's likely an appeal to pity.

Countering this fallacy involves refocusing the conversation on the relevant facts and criteria. Ask questions that steer the discussion back to the issue at hand.

For example, if someone argues they should get a job because they've been unemployed for so long, you might say, "I understand this has been a difficult time for you, but let’s discuss your qualifications for the role." This keeps the focus on merit and fairness, helping to ensure that decisions are made based on rational considerations rather than emotional manipulations.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, October). Appeal to Pity Fallacy (29 Examples + Description). Retrieved from

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