One of my all-time most popular posts is Child Labor: Put That Baby to Work!, which showed how orienting a baby picture so that the baby was looking toward the headline of an ad caused people to spend more time reading that headline. There’s another effect that baby pictures have: they can boost altruistic behavior. An interesting experiment in Edinburgh showed the power of a baby picture compared to other images:

Hundreds of wallets were planted on the streets of Edinburgh by psychologists last year. Perhaps surprisingly, nearly half of the 240 wallets were posted back. But there was a twist.

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, and his team inserted one of four photographs behind a clear plastic window inside, showing either a smiling baby, a cute puppy, a happy family or a contented elderly couple. Some wallets had no image and some had charity papers inside.

When faced with the photograph of the baby people were far more likely to send the wallet back, the study found. In fact, only one in ten were hard-hearted enough not to do so. With no picture to tug at the emotions, just one in seven were sent back.

According to Dr Wiseman the result reflects a compassionate instinct towards vulnerable infants that people have evolved to ensure the survival of future generations. “The baby kicked off a caring feeling in people, which is not surprising from an evolutionary perspective,” he said. [From TimesOnline – Want to keep your wallet? Carry a baby picture.]

The results were quite startling. Fully 88% of the wallets with the baby photo were returned. The next best rate was the puppy photo, at 53%. A family photo netted a 48% return rate, while an elderly couple picture scored only 28%.

Non-Profit Organizations

If you are a non-profit organization that depends on altruistic behavior, employing baby images could get your donors in a more generous mood. Some groups will be better able to use the technique than others; a symphony, for example, might find it difficult to build a baby image into a fundraising letter without it looking odd. Charities serving families, though, might consider a prominent baby picture instead of an image showing an entire family group.

For-Profit Advertisers

Is there a neuromarketing lesson for for-profit advertisers? My first thought is that gift giving is in part an altruistic activity and could be boosted with a baby pic. Indeed, advertisers have long incorporated baby images simply because they grabbed the viewer’s attention. Perhaps in some cases they got an altruistic boost, too. One great ad that uses a baby (and the baby’s altruistic potential) is the pictured Michelin tire ad. This ad frames the tire purchase in terms of safety instead of performance or economy, and in particular the safety of the adorable baby. Presumably, tire-shoppers might cough up the cash for a set of premium Michelins if they can be persuaded that those tires will be safer for their family.

Can you think of some clever ways for-profit advertisers can employ (or have employed) a baby strategy?

Babies image via Shutterstock