ARTICLE: Photographs amplify news of danger, but not positive messages

Untitled by Bruno Glätsch, licence CC0 1.0

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Edmund W. J. Lee and Shirley S. Ho, both of Nanyang Technological University, studied the question through an experiment with 445 Singaporean university students.

The participants were shown news stories about either nuclear power or nanotechnology. Some of the stories included photographs while others were text-only. Further, some of the stories described the technologies as risky, while others highlighted their benefits. The participants’ eye movements were tracked in order to measure their attention, and after reading the stories they were surveyed over their attitudes.

As expected, the framing of the stories affected the participants’ attitudes: stories highlighting risks made the students more apprehensive toward the technologies, while news about their benefits increased support. The authors also -correctly- anticipated that news with photographs would hold the participants’ attention longer.

The inclusion of photographs partially amplified the effect of negative stories, Lee and Ho found. Namely, it made the students view government support to the technologies more negatively. This effect was particularly strong in stories about nuclear power – which is a more familiar (and divisive) topic to Singaporeans than nanotechnology. Stories about benefits were not significantly affected by the inclusion of photographs.

The article “Are Photographs Worth More Than a Thousand Words?” was published by the journal Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free). An accepted manuscript version of the article is available on (open access).

Picture: Untitled by Bruno Glätsch, licence CC0 1.0.

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