Baby Pics Boost Altruism


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

  1. Marc says

    Great point Roger, That Michelin ad was great. Some of my most effective campaigns involved photos of kids and babies…. And I will be sure to do it more in the future 🙂

    My wallet needs more baby pics too…

  2. Katya says

    Fantastic post. Amazing blog. Thanks for your contributions to the thinking of charities everywhere! And note the DonateButton on my post- they must have been reading your mind.

  3. Bowan says

    Automotive companies could use babies to promote electric or no emission vehicles with the ‘do it for their future’ angle. I’m sure if designed tactfully it could definitely grad some attention in certain car magazines and challenge the traditional buyers decision making process.

  4. Tag Goulet, says

    Thank you for your excellent post. I added a baby pic to a webpage where we are trying to get people to sign Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” pledge to support safe driving. We’ve been offering a free product with great results so far (819 people have signed and returned the pledges within a few days), but I’m betting the results will be even better. You can see the webpage at

  5. Chip says

    Great post. I think March of Dimes does a good job of using aby imagery to connect with people’s hearts. Their simple, but effective facebook page avatar does a great job of this.

    As a staffer at Kiwanis International we have a variety of programs which target infants and young children, so the data provided by this post will be helpful as we continue develop our success plans. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Megan Strand says

    Interesting research and certainly applicable for marketers. Certainly organizations like World Vision and UNICEF make use of great photo images.

    What I’m wondering, however, is if there’s such thing as “baby fatigue”. Will consumers tire of their heart strings being pulled if all charitable organizations start “babywashing” their messaging?

    I’m also curious to know what the return rate was on charity papers. That was the only non-image item seeded in the wallets. That stat might be telling in and of itself….

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  7. Roger Dooley says

    Megan, the “charity card” wallets were returned at a mere 20% rate, less than 25% of the baby picture rate. The control wallets scored 15% returns, not that much worse than the charity card wallets.

    I do think that any marketing approach can be overdone, including babies.

    Thanks for the other suggestions, everyone!


  8. Amiek says

    Personally I don’t respond very well to babies. There are some nice Anne Geddes pictures the symphony orchestra could use:

    Funny is that the first image I had in my mind in the first part of your blog, was that of babies and musical instruments.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Ha, that’s a brilliant image, Amiek, and could well be used in a symphony fundraising promotion. I’m thinking a tagline along the lines of, “Ensure our orchestra is still here for the next generation – donate now!” Thanks for posting that!


  9. B @ logos coaching says

    <— sorted! 😉

  10. Ivan Guel says

    Great post! After I read this post I asked my colleagues if they have a baby picture in their wallet. Most of them didn’t. I read this article out loud to them, and our video editor quickly printed a picture of random baby online and put it in his wallet… funny

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Ha, that’s funny, Ivan. But it’s likely a smart thing to do!


  11. Andre @ Krabbelschuhe says

    That`s the reason why there are so many Baby sites, because they can convert very well. But it`s also the right choice of photo or Baby… It´s the same with most Models. If you have a baby Face, chances are good for you.

  12. Jett says

    Oh man wow, really? Yes. I love these kind of stuffs and I can definitely imagine it happening with baby pics being in the wallet and all. lol wow, I’m still smiling on that, hehe :)_.

  13. Jett says

    lol wow what a funny, weird ad :). Also is it just me but does the baby seem to have a kind of cool, manly look on his face if you know what I mean, that could also be their another way to advertise properly :)_

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