This research investigates how the combination of aesthetically appealing and unappealing visual elements in marketing communications can motivate prosocial behavior. Prior literature has investigated the effectiveness of aesthetically pleasing or displeasing visuals separately and has reported mixed results. Based on the notion that empathy is a key driver of prosocial behavior, the current work first makes a theoretical distinction between two antecedents of empathy—identification and perceived need—and then illustrates how these antecedents are evoked by pleasing and displeasing visual elements, respectively. The authors show that the combination of a pleasing individual (human or object) and a displeasing group is particularly effective in evoking identification and perceived need, and therefore empathy. The elevated empathy, in turn, motivates prosocial behavior. Five main experiments in the field, lab, and online, as well as a pre-study and two post-studies, provide supportive empirical evidence. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.
- Prosocial behavior
- Visual images