Aesthetically (dis)pleasing visuals: A dual pathway to empathy and prosocial behavior

Amir Grinstein, Henrik Hagtvedt, Ann Kronrod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-99
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Research in Marketing
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Aesthetics
  • Empathy
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Visual images

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Marketing


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