‘Facing’ it boosts support for environmental causes

Government agencies and charities use a variety of tactic and fines to encourage participation in social causes, says Pankaj Aggarwal. Putting a human face on the cause may offer an inexpensive yet highly effective means of gaining more support. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Using energy conservation, recycling, and the environment as social causes, researchers found that by drawing a face showing emotions on products increased support for each cause.

Companies often put a personal face on products in an attempt to reach a deeper connection with consumers. Now new research published in Psychological Science shows the same idea can be applied to social causes.
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Putting a human face on the campaign for a social cause actually increases support for it, according to the study from an international team of researchers including University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management professor, Pankaj Aggarwal.

The researchers found that anthropomorphizing social causes is effective because it appeals to people’s sense of guilt.

“We are not consciously aware of why seeing a face on a campaign has an impact, but we definitely feel a deeper connection to it,” says Aggarwal. “When we see an entity feeling pain we would feel guilty if we could have done something to prevent it. We also wouldn’t want that burden on ourselves so we would act accordingly to help that entity.”

People are not motivated to support social causes because it involves a personal sacrifice of time, money, and effort. It’s only when they stop to consider the consequences of not participating—and feel guilty as a result—that they begin to comply.

In one experiment the researchers put eyes and a mouth with a caption that read “Please feed me food waste” on a bin for organic waste. The face on the bin looks sad because of an apparent lack of participation in recycling food waste. Participants says they were more likely to place food waste in the bin with a human face compared to the ordinary, non-anthropomorphized bin.

“Not only did we find participants felt guilty about not complying with the social cause, but they also felt guilty about harming another being, in the form of an anthropomorphized light bulb, waste basket, or tree,” says Hae Joo Kim, assistant professor of Marketing at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Government agencies and charities use a variety of expensive and often ineffective financial instruments, such as fines, to encourage participation in social causes, says Aggarwal. Putting a human face on the cause may offer an inexpensive yet highly effective means of gaining more support.

Source: University of Toronto