Images are visceral reminders of the pandemic’s dangers, revealing unsettling events behind closed doors, showing us suffering’s human face. Is there evidence showing that shocking images reliably persuade? In our study, we found that participants also believed shocking images would deliver a persuasive punch, moving people’s attitudes about the risks of the coronavirus. Viewing disturbing images, we use the sadness or outrage we ourselves feel as a guide to understand how others will feel. If you entered our study doubting the threat, the images didn’t shock you and, accordingly, didn’t move your thinking.