Pictures power 'truthiness'
Looking at pretty pictures helped a great many of us learn to read, but New Zealand research is showing the power of an illustrated prompt may extend into adulthood.
A study has now found that people are far more likely to accept something is true or legitimate if there is an accompanying picture beside it.
Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Eryn Newman has been examining the validity of "truthiness", and her surprising results are set to be published in international psychological journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
Coined by US political satirist Stephen Colbert, truthiness is the "gut feeling" something is right because it looks or feels legitimate, without regard to evidence or fact.
In the study, Newman, along with colleagues at Canadian University of Victoria, showed people a number of claims such as "the liquid metal inside a thermometer is magnesium" and asked them to agree or disagree.
"We wanted to examine how the kinds of photos people see everyday - the ones that decorate newspaper or TV headlines, for example - might produce truthiness.
"We were really surprised by what we found," Newman said.
The research showed when a claim was accompanied by a picture, people were more likely to agree that the claim was true, regardless of whether it was or not.
Newman said findings fitted with the idea that photos helped people conjure up more easily their own images and ideas about what was being claimed, rather than forcing them to think for themselves without a visual prompt.
"We know that when it's easy for people to bring information to mind, it 'feels' right", she said.
The research raised significant questions about the use of pictures in the media. Wellington's Victoria Faculty of Graduate Research professor Maryanne Garry said although decorative photos grabbed people's attention, "this research suggests that these photos might have unintended consequences".
She said it could lead to people accepting information because of their feelings rather than the facts.
The research is part of a wider study which looks at how images influence people's beliefs and memories.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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