Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It gets emotional...

I'm sure this ad is not the only distressing charity advert you've seen on television.

The sorrowful advertisement for Save the Children displays woeful children throughout the world waking up to poor living conditions. It shows children sleeping on dirty beds, by a pump at petrol station and even on scraps of paper placed on a pathway right next to a busy road. A simple, slow and seemingly sad tune is played to go along with the heart-rending advertisement. The clip is then followed by a small statement:
“Tomorrow, millions of children wake up to a world of poverty, hunger and disease.” “Until this stops, we won’t rest.”
The advert then goes on to show that you, yes you, can make a change to the suffering of these children by simply donating.

It’s likely the advertisers wanted their audience to feel some sort of emotional response and that response elicited may have brought out a tear or a feeling of sadness. Well, did it? It is these responses which cause us to rationalise the issue (poverty), cognitively make sense of it and possibly create a negative-dominance to our thoughts leading us to particular behaviour – the tendency to donate (see: “empathy-helping hypothesis”; Bagozzi and Moore, 1994). Thus, emotions influence judgement and decision-making (Cohen and Andrade 2004).

Charity advertisements often use images or scenes of suffering in order to generate a feeling of compassion and sympathy. The use of images portrayed on the screen allows one to see what life is like in the wider world compared to their local world where the individual spectates other experiences which they don’t experience, causing one to empathise to the other and consequently they begin to act. In fact, research shows that advertisements using negative imagery creates higher attention rates in comparison to positive communication advertisements (Homer & Yoon, 1992; Huhmann & Brotherton, 1997).

Smalls and Verrochi (2009) - Study 1 - tested the effectiveness of photos illustrating children with a happy, neutral or sad emotional expression for an advertisement on an organisation supporting children’s cancer research. Study 2 looked at the psychological mechanisms which caused the effects of study 1.

In Study 1, almost 78% of the 151 participants who were in the sad face condition donated money to the organisation compared to 52.1% in the happy condition and 52% in the neutral condition. (See Figure 1). Study 2 helped to confirm that people who look at sad faces have higher levels of sympathy compared to looking at happy and neutral faces. It was also found that participants were sadder when viewing a sad face than when viewing a happy face. This affirmed that emotional contagion (the tendency to feel an emotion similar and influenced by others) causes the sympathetic response to the sad photo where the observer shares the victims pain. This consequently created the behaviour of more donations. However, Smalls and Verrochi (2009) mentioned that a sad advertisement may not necessarily mean it will be more successful in receiving higher donations as perhaps an intense sad advertisement could cause viewers to generate feelings of helplessness. 

Bagozzi, R. P., & Moore, D. J. (1994). Public Service Advertisements: Emotions and Empathy Guide Prosocial Behavior. Journal of Marketing, 58, 56–70.

Cohen, J. B., & Andrade, E. B. (2004). Affective Intuition and Task-Contingent Affect Regulation. Journal of Consumer Research, 358-67.

Homer, P. M., & Yoon, S. G. (1992). Message framing and the interrelationships among ad-based feelings, affect, and cognition. Journal of Advertising, 21, 19-33.

Huhmann, B. A., & Brotherton, T. P. (1997). A content analysis of guilt appeals in popular magazine advertisements. Journal of Advertising, 26, 35-46.

Small, D., & Verrochi, N. (2009) The face of need: Facial emotion expression on charity advertisements. Journal of Marketing Research, 46, 777-787.

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