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Cuteness May Deter Charitable Acts

Update Date: Jun 25, 2014 07:52 PM EDT

Youth and beauty are always pluses when asking for help. However, new research reveals that pictures of cute children may actually backfire in obtaining disaster relief.

Lead researchers Robert J. Fisher and Yu Ma from the University of Alberta found that less attractive children actually receive more help than their cuter counterparts when facing natural disasters, poverty or homelessness.

"Many charitable organizations use children in advertising and promotional materials. Our research examines how the facial attractiveness of the children in these campaigns affects the empathy and help received from adults," study authors wrote in the study.

In the study, participants were asked to visit fictional websites where they were asked to consider sponsoring a child from a developing country. Researchers said that the levels of attractiveness of the children featured on the websites and their levels of need were systematically varied in the experiments.

The findings revealed that facial attractiveness had no affect on helping response when children were portrayed as having a severe need (i.e. losing both parents as a result of a natural disaster). Surprisingly, higher facial attractiveness actually garnered less compassion and sympathy when children's needs were not severe.

Researchers believe that this negative effect of attractiveness exists because people believe that attractive children were more popular, intelligent and helpful than their unattractive counterparts. However, researchers noted that this effect also existed when children in the studies were portrayed as being too young to care for themselves.

Researchers said that the latest findings might be beneficial for disaster relief agencies, hospitals, and other charitable organizations.

"We believe our research offers a positive and hopeful perspective on human behavior because it suggests that when a child is in obvious need, even strangers can feel compassion and offer aid irrespective of the child's physical appearance," researchers concluded.

The findings were published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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