First Advisor

Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Communication






Humanitarian assistance -- Psychological aspects, Communication in social action, Photography -- Social aspects



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 122 p.) : ill. (chiefly col.)


This paper presents findings of an exploratory study to evaluate the impact of humanitarian photography on the generation of sympathy and donation behavior. Considering the large amount of money spent each year by charity organizations on marketing strategies, it seems crucial to shed light on the persuasive impact of images in this context. The overarching purpose of this study was to discern what impact, if any, a number of features in a photograph have on sympathetic reactions. Specifically the author examined facial expressions (sad vs. happy), eye contact vs. no eye contact and total number of subjects portrayed. Findings supported the hypothesis that sad expressions in photos would have greater sympathetic responses than happy expressions. The author hypothesized that direct eye contact would be more persuasive than indirect eye contact, but the data supported the inverse result: indirect eye contact elicited more sympathy than direct gaze. The third hypothesis, that single subject images would be more persuasive than multiple subjects, was not supported. The author concluded that results draw attention to sympathy-generating attributes of charity appeals that have been overlooked.


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Portland State University. Dept. of Communication

Persistent Identifier