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San Diego State University

Fowler College of
Business Administration

The Impact of Digitally Enhanced Images on Men and Women

Some legislators in the U.S. are advocating legislation that requires a disclaimer on any digitally enhanced photograph used in advertising. They’ve based their argument on the idea that these digitally enhanced images reflect an unattainable level of physical attractiveness.

But do Americans need these disclaimers to alter their emotions when viewing these ads? Do ads with retouched images make people react negatively or positively toward the product they are viewing and to their own self image?

That is what San Diego State marketing professors, Dr. Paula Peter and Dr. Erlinde Cornelis were determined to find out. They showed models in advertising images to both male and female subjects. One group of advertisements had photo enhancement disclaimers and the other group did not.

The research indicated that men tended to be affected more positively when there was a disclaimer and more negatively when there was no disclaimer, while there was not a significant positive or negative reaction from women in either instance.

“We wondered if our results were based only on gender,” said Cornelis. “So we tested an attribute on all subjects for emotional granularity, which is the ability to differentiate between the specificity of different emotions.”

What they found was that women tended to have higher emotional granularity than men and that women tend to be less affected by disclaimers in advertising than men.

What they found was that women tended to have higher emotional granularity than men and that women tend to be less affected by disclaimers in advertising than men.

The reason might rely on what the researchers call advertising literacy “Women’s advertising literacy might be high enough to already know that the photo of the model in the ad is probably enhanced,” said Cornelis. “We also noticed that ads with disclaimers shown to men tended to enhance their mood and self-satisfaction toward the ad, where women seemed somewhat indifferent to disclaimers.”

In conclusion, Peter and Cornelis learned that women and men might process disclaimers differently and that this might be related to their emotional granularity, as well as their advertising literacy. Their future research aims to understand how both emotional granularity and advertising literacy might explain gender differences considering the processing of different advertising disclaimers.