••• family research

What exactly motivates people to have children? Over time, researchers have attributed it to reasons like biological drive, social pressures and emotional fulfillment. But according to a recent study from the UBC Sauder School of Business, advertising and social media should be added to that list. The study, “Baby fever: Situational cues shift the desire to have children via empathic emotions,” was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The research team found that viewing positive parent-child images, like going to the park, having dinner, drawing, taking fun trips or playing with their children, reliably boosted young adults’ desire for their own little bundle of joy. This response is mostly driven by people’s empathic emotions.

Notably, viewing negative parent-child images, like children drawing on walls, crying, fighting with siblings or having a meltdown on an airplane, did not have much of an effect on people’s desire to have children.

“Advertising and social media play an important role in how we view the world. In general, what we see on Instagram and Facebook are positive portrayals of parenthood, with #blessed and #bestkidsever. How often do we see parents post #mykidsareterrible?” says study co-author and UBC Sauder Associate Professor Lisa Cavanaugh. “We wanted to see if, by simply showing pictures of kids in advertising, we could affect the desire to have children.”

In a series of four studies, researchers observed a total group of 1,093 young adults between the ages of 18-35, none of whom had children. Some participants were shown advertisements with positive parent/child images and others were shown versions of the same ads but with the child removed.

Researchers found that young adults who viewed the positive parent-child images had a 22 percent stronger desire to have children than those who viewed the neutral images (i.e., the sam...