Has 2020 Made Us More Empathetic?

Trends / Realness
Oliver Rossi
Rebecca Swift
Aug 11, 2020
Has 2020—and all of its challenges and movements—made us more empathetic?

Covid‑19 has changed the way we speak. “Social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” and “the new normal” are now regular parts of our vocabulary. In the same way, we’re changing the imagery that goes along with this new lexicon. At Getty Images, we’re shooting content that has never existed before, like socially distanced lines into the grocery stores, elbow‑bump greetings, working from home, virtual events and schooling, reopenings, and closures.

Similarly, support for the Black Lives Matter movement and anti‑racism measures have been adopted globally, by more people than ever before. Defunding the police, participating in protests, and saying the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others are now all part of the mainstream conversation. It, too, is the subject of new types of visual icons and imagery.

All of these changes mean that these visualizations depict a shared human experience. Our recent Visual GPS research showed 97% of people believe there will be long‑term outcomes stemming from the pandemic, with 50% agreeing that we’ll need to rethink our lifestyles and priorities. This is a global phenomenon, as the research pulled from a survey of customers across 26 countries, and something that needs to be reflected by the imagery creators who are visualizing our new daily life.
"The visualisation of the shared human experience around the world has brought us closer together."
The question is, has this shared global experience made us more empathetic towards one another?

Research shows that we are better at understanding or relating to an individual’s story, as opposed to one where people are grouped. Humans are inherently social creatures and are interested in sharing with one another, caring for one another, and looking at one another. On an individual level, it’s easier to relate to the emotions of one other person. That’s why popular imagery tends not to focus on too many people at once, and why strong stories often start with a personal anecdote.

This relatability is growing in importance when it comes to imagery. It represents a new evolution within visual diversity, one that is sorely needed. While advertising and media have steadily worked to create a greater visual representation, 70% of women still state that they do not feel represented in the media they see. Its clear consumers do not relate to the people pictured in the media and do not see enough of themselves.
At Getty Images, we have been tracking visual representation and diversity both in front of and behind the lens for decades. It has been vastly amplified in the wake of the pandemic, and we have seen search terms focusing on diversity and inclusion double year‑over‑year from last year. Additionally, research from our custom VisualGPS survey found that 80% of people expect brands to be committed to diversity and inclusion ‑ consistently. There is an expectation that brands and their marketing materials authentically capture culture and lifestyle.

We tested this theory of greater empathy by asking which images people were drawn to when considering inclusiveness. The key finding was that most people were drawn to the same imagery, with little variation. This was true even across generational divides or differing nationalities. What this translates to ‑ or better yet, what this means for us ‑ is that inclusivity is appealing to everyone.

We found several notable trends within this research, like women choosing images of people from a diverse range of cultures, ethnicities, ages, and body types. They also chose non‑traditional images of women in leadership and were twice as likely to choose images of friends with varied body types having fun together over images of homogenous female friends. This selection likely was related to the fact that within the Visual GPS data, many respondents felt that they had been discriminated against due to their body shape or type, even more so than race, age, gender, or lifestyle. Men also chose less traditionally visualized images of daily moments like those of non‑white fathers and a gay couple with a child.

The data in this study showed that in every instance, people were first drawn to connection, emotion, personality, and realness. Within our search data as well, we saw this reality reflected in new search terms that are trending, like connection, trust, gratitude, hope, empathy, and strength.

What we can say with certainty is that while many people feel that the media and advertising industries can do more to make sure they picture more diversity, in terms of race, age, gender, and lifestyle, in an effort to be more relatable, it is also important to capture the essence and emotion of real life. We must replace old stereotypes in imagery of slim, young, mostly white populations with imagery that better reflects the variety of the world around us. We must examine what we share as well as what makes us different. In that way, we allow ourselves to take another small learning from the hardships that many face in 2020: to become more empathetic to those around us.
Visual GPS: The Australian and New Zealand Consumer