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From awe to action: How the beauty of nature stimulates ethical behaviour

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  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Aesthetically pleasing nature images raise moral concern by inspiring self-transcendent feelings of awe and inspiration. This can be translated into action, like charitable donations.
  • Application:
    Nature imagery can be used to nudge customers in a sustainable manner.
  • Don’t you think nature can be beautiful? So do most. Beauty in nature can be found anywhere, and is even good for your health. But this is not all. Do you want to find out how you can use nature to sustainably nudge your customers? Keep reading to discover the benefits of aesthetics in nature images.

    Humans find beauty everywhere they go. We see and appreciate it in others, in how we move, what we say or what we build. We appreciate art and architecture just as much as animals and nature. Beauty has moved people to give it all their time and energy, great artists have given their lives to produce or create something that moves them and anyone with a similar mindset. This interesting concept is not just aesthetically pleasing, but can also be a pleasure for marketeers.

    Luckily for us, it is possible to find art all around you, because what is more beautiful than orange light shining through the trees during sundown? Or admiring the lengthy horizon when standing on top of a great mountain? Mother nature has given us a wide array of art pieces to choose from for free.

    Even better, interacting with nature has shown to reduce the length of hospital stays of patients (Guidolin et al., 2024). Beautiful nature has a way of calming a person down by lowering anxiety, stress and pain due to the mere presence of plants in their room. If you ever need a confidence boost, take a walk in the park. Because even though we’re not really sure why, it is shown that nature is one of your best friends when it comes to boosting both your mental and physical health (Gaston et al., 2013).

    We have grown accustomed to a certain style of living, but this has turned out to be problematic. Nature has been suffering due to human overconsumption. Luckily, awareness has grown. Nowadays societies show more and more care for sustainable living, so what can you do to raise the same awareness around you?

    We’re all aware of commercials attempting to appeal to our emotions, trying to make us feel sad and take pity on what- or whomever. The sadness in such commercials lets us feel sympathetic and inspired to help out (Homer, 2021); more sadness equals more charitable donations (Small & Verrochi, 2009). 

    Even though this tactic is shown to be effective, there’s another way to do it. The flip side of this coin is beauty, cuteness, or aesthetically pleasing views in, for example, nature. A recent article has shown that aesthetics in nature can increase online engagement, measured by looking at the number of likes (Cunningham & Aribarg, 2022). They showed that a more aesthetically pleasing image prompted more people to like the image, and they discovered what makes it pleasing to look at by using machine learning techniques on hundreds of images.

    But how can social media engagement improve sustainability? Apart from the talk value, natural aesthetics raise our moral concern. We care about what we love and we want to protect it. Nature is beautiful and that’s what we love about it. This stems from the biophilia hypothesis; humans have an innate need for connection with nature (Kellert & Wilson, 1993). This is an evolutionary effect. Through time, we have experienced nature through our senses; the smell of grass, the feel of water or the sight of flowers. Since nature is beneficial for our health, we have since developed a bond. This is why we may prefer a wooden table over a plastic one, natural materials remind us of what’s good for us. 

    When we see beauty, we experience so-called self-transcendent emotions (Pizarro et al., 2021). You might recognize the feeling of awe when standing at the foot of a great building, or feel inspired after watching a live musical production. With these emotions, we place ourselves toward the outside, instead of the usual focus on our personal goals and concerns. This stimulates us to be more helpful and motivated, which translates in, for example, donation behaviour. This is especially true for sustainable behaviour in regard to pictures of nature's beauty. 

    How can you use this? In this case, nudging is the way to go. This technique can be used to subtly steer a customers decision-making process in the preferred direction. By using the most aesthetic images you can prompt these feelings of awe, leading to the moral concern necessary to move into action. Use this to not only show why a customer should care about your product, but to also subconsciously affect their willingness to choose it over a less sustainable alternative. This will steer your public in the right direction!

    What’s more, the authors discovered what makes a picture aesthetic. They discovered the following guidelines using machine learning on hundreds of images:

    1. Focus on featuring animals rather than humans, as wildlife tends to resonate better with audiences. 
    2. Enhance the visual appeal with vibrant saturation and high clarity, while maintaining a balanced contrast. 
    3. Opt for a central composition to draw viewers in and create a harmonious aesthetic.

    These considerations collectively contribute to the most aesthetically pleasing nature images, ensuring they stand out and capture the attention of your audience on social media. An image like this will make the viewer experience positive emotions, but also give them a sense of calm. Both feelings make the viewer feel more engaged with whatever they’re watching in the picture.

    To sum up:

    • Aesthetically pleasing nature images contain animals in the center, are visually vibrant and clear, while maintaining low contrast.
    • Pictures like this raise self-transcendent feelings in the viewer, leading to moral concern for the topic on hand.
    • Use pictures like this to nudge customers in a sustainable way by making them feel for the portrayed object.
  • From awe to action: How the beauty of nature stimulates ethical behaviour
  • Reference:

    Kim, E., Cunningham, J. L., & Aribarg, A. (2022). The Moral Significance of Aesthetics in Nature Imagery. Psychological Science, 33(9), 1372–1385. https://doi.org/10.1177/09567976221083543


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