Is there a word for something that "has a lot of emotional associations which lead to difficulties in approaching the subject rationally and objectively"?

For example, I would say that "gay marriage", "global warming" or "feminism" in many contexts are examples of this, while for example "stone grinder", "workplace" or "skyscrapers" generally are relatively clear of these "good-or-bad" associations.

The closest I get to this is normative: The topic is very normatively charged, but I feel that "normative" also implies that there is some kind of intent to standardize. A technical document declaring a proposed standard for something is obviously normative, but the topic could still be clear of any emotionally charged associations that would have made it hard to have a rational discussion around it.


It seems like the problem I have is that I want to make the conflict between emotional associations with a subject and the possibility of approaching the subject objectively explicit. The implicit conflict of emotions and objectivity seems to be taken for granted by many, but I cannot rule out that a person or a group of people can compartmentalize their feelings and still treat the subject in a rational, objective and professional way.

It's the cases where the emotional associations of a subject have traits such that they effectively destroy the possibility of treating the subject objectively that I want to describe, not only those where the subject has strong emotional associations.

  • 1
    Well, the examples you are making, gay marriage, global warming etc..are unlikely to attract positive feelings, unless you are directly positively involved ( a gay who wants to marry or an enemy of environmental issues.)
    – user66974
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:23
  • 1
    The usual expression for the contentious topics is hot potato. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:29
  • 2
    What's wrong with emotionally charged?
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:32
  • 8
    You might consider these being touchy subjects
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:32
  • 2
    Yes, to me when you say that it is emotionally charged it means that any discussion will center on the emotion and thus not remain objective.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:38

15 Answers 15


This may be a case where Br Eng says precisely that with emotive

Definition of emotive in English: oxforddictionaries
1Arousing or able to arouse intense feeling:
::::animal experimentation is an emotive subject
::::the issue has proved highly emotive

  • 1
    Though call, but I think this is closest to what I'm searching for.
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 21:11
  • 1
    @Alex - have you used this word anywhere (in what sentence)? I ask only because I don't think emotive is the right word for what you asked for. Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 6:03
  • 1
    @SridharRatnakumar you can say something is an emotive topic or an emotive issue
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 6:35

@Jim is right-- using "charged" in this sense-- emotionally charged is potentially the phrase you want. To the point where this dictionary uses emotionally charged in 3 of 4 sample sentences for charged:

charged -

4.3 Fill or pervade (something) with a quality or emotion:

  • the air was charged with menace
  • Selling your property can be emotionally charged at the best of times but the majority of estate agents will treat the sale sensitively and are happy to arrange accompanied viewing.
  • As a student, Telegdi often raised quite a stir with his emotionally charged attempts to raise student interest in issues such as housing and enumeration.
  • During the emotionally charged gathering, a statue was unveiled.

A close synonym to charged is fraught:

Causing or affected by great anxiety or stress

You could say the issue is fraught. Or the issue is charged, though both are far more commonly used in conjunction with an adverb or noun. "emotionally fraught" or "fraught with emotion" being more common than a simple "fraught."

And perhaps the best if you want to factor in preconceptions, bias, is loaded

(of statements or questions) charged with associative significance and often meant to mislead or influence

... which is a definition being stretched from defining only "questions." Ngram shows "loaded issue" increasing in usage.


Such topics are usually referred to as "hot-button issues".

Noun 1. hot-button issue - an issue that elicits strong emotional reactions


Such issues can be termed sensitive.


  1. highly delicate; requiring prudence: sensitive diplomatic issues.

Free dictionary

  • This is the best word for the potential negative-emotion trigger. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:46

Such issues are contentious

causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial.


and (as that definition says) controversial

giving rise or likely to give rise to controversy or public disagreement.



The rest are all excellent answers, but there's one more word I thought might warrant consideration.

Polarising is the adjective that describes an issue that immediately divides people into opposing camps. Generally, the implication is that any discussion of such an issue causes emotions to run high and objective, rational argument is difficult to achieve.

Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/polarize) [sorry, I could only find the US spelling]:


 verb po·lar·ize \ˈpō-lə-ˌrīz\

: to cause (people, opinions, etc.) to separate into opposing groups

physics : to cause (something, such as light waves) to vibrate in a particular pattern

physics : to cause (something) to have positive and negative charges : to give polarity to (something)

Focus on the first definition and ignore the more literal physics meanings.


I know that this may come a bit late, but I would say that the word you were looking for might be visceral rather than emotive (I don't think, however, that emotive is a bad answer).

According to Merriam-Webster:



1) coming from strong emotions and not from logic or reason


Such concepts/topics could be described as either “controversial” or “uncontroversial.”

CONTROVERSIAL adjective: 1: of, relating to, or arousing controversy 2: given to controversy : disputatious

UNCONTROVERSIAL adjective: unlikely to provoke controversy or offense <uncontroversial legislation, such as designating the cranberry the official state fruit>; (M-W online)

Ironically, the very concept of the OP seems to be demonstrated by the difficulty, if not impossibility, of finding terms for a lack of objectivity which are neutral, or “clear of ... ‘good-or-bad’ associations." The fact is that most English-speaking cultures would reject, out of hand, the premise that emotional associations hindering rationality and objectivity, could ever be counted as non-detrimental or as a positive attribute – is it possible that our lack of either neutral or positive terminology for subjective valuations demonstrates our own cultural bias for objectivity (a concept which, like subjectivity, is rather difficult to decisively define).

The English language refers to a lack of rational objectivity with any number of terms, none of which, as far as I can see, are intended to convey positive, or even neutral, valuation.

In science, objective observation is the gold standard – at least, that’s what most undergrads hear in every science class. But what exactly is the difference between objective vs. subjective?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines subjective as: “characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind.”

The definition essentially says that when something, like an observation, is subjective, it has its basis inside of a person’s mind. When that is the case, the subjective observation is ruled by the life, memories, biases, and prejudices of the person that came up with it. A subjective observation is based on how an individual perceives reality, rather than reality itself. Therefore, this observation could change wildly based on the person making the observation.

Definition of Objective

Merriam-Webster defines objective as: “of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers.”

This means that the observation originates and occurs outside of the mind of any one individual. When this is the case, that observation is observable by any other person looking at the same situation, provided subjective biases are removed.

Curiosity Aroused

Some examples

prejudice noun: an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex, religion, etc.

• a feeling of like or dislike for someone or something especially when it is not reasonable or logical. (M-W online)

blind faith noun: belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination.

Cultural bias is the phenomenon of interpreting and judging phenomena by standards inherent to one's own culture. The phenomenon is sometimes considered a problem central to social and human sciences, such as economics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology.

Some practitioners of the aforementioned fields have attempted to develop methods and theories to compensate for or a culture make assumptions about conventions, including conventions of language, notation, proof and evidence. They are then accused of mistaking these assumptions for laws of logic or nature.

Numerous such biases exist, concerning cultural norms for color, location of body parts, mate selection, concepts of justice, linguistic and logical validity, acceptability of evidence, and taboos. Cultural bias extends on many more fields in the globalizing world. Ordinary people may tend to imagine other people as basically the same, not significantly more or less valuable, probably attached emotionally to different groups and different land. (Wikipedia)

  • 1
    the premise that emotional associations hindering rationality and objectivity, could ever be counted as a positive attribute - I'm not sure I understand you, but do you mean positive as in "good" and that you interpret my question as that I'm searching for a term that is in itself positively charged?
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:05
  • I recognize that the OP searches for terms "clear of ... ‘good-or-bad’ associations", but I am unaware of a term which describes a lack of objectivity in any but a negative light.
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:10
  • I suspect we have slight misunderstanding here, I'm searching for a term that describes that something is "having a lot of emotional associations that leads to difficulties in approaching the subject rationally and objectively", but the term I'm searching for does not in itself have to be clear of negative associations. Eg. "the subject of feminism is very emotive" or "the subject of skyscrapers is not very emotive" if choosing that suggestion. "Emotive" in itself could well be negatively valued.
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:26
  • OK, Alex, the title especially, seemed to ask for something along the lines of my answer. I see there have been edit(s).
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:30
  • The only problem with "emotive" or the other suggestions is that I want to make explicit that the emotive associations actually harms the objective approach to the subject, in contrast to being emotive but not in a way that harms the possibility to approach it objectively. Or is it taken for granted that emotional association always are in conflict with an objective approach? That people simply cannot treat something emotional in an objective way?
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:30

inflammatory, or maybe provocative?

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. Answers on StackExchange are expected to be definitive, and your would be improved by explaining why you believe your answer to be the best, along with suitable references and examples. I encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for a more thorough understanding of our standards and guidelines.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 13:51

Subjectivity may refer to a positive or negative emotional approach to a specific issue with lack of objectivity:

  • Dependent on or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world:

    • "The sensation of pain is a highly subjective experience that varies by culture as well as by individual temperament and situation" (John Hoberman).
  • Based on a given person's experience, understanding, and feelings; personal or individual:

    • admitted he was making a highly subjective judgment.




  1. an opinion formed beforehand without adequate evidence

  2. a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation (Vocabulary.com)

IMO, a preconception can imply 'both positive and negative emotional associations', as per your requirement.


How about partisan


Prejudiced in favour of a particular cause:

newspapers have become increasingly partisan



I think divisive fits here:


adjective tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people. "the highly divisive issue of abortion"


Consider evocative:

adj.: evoking or tending to evoke an especially emotional response


You might want to call them "third rail issues".

The third rail in a railway is the exposed electrical conductor that carries high voltage power. Stepping on the high-voltage third rail usually results in electrocution. The use of the term in politics serves to emphasize the "shock" that results from raising the controversial idea, and the "political death" (or political suicide) that the unaware or provocative politician would encounter as a result.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.