ARTICLE: Photos less crucial than text for politicians

Election Night Newspaper Stand by Adrianne Mathiowetz, licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

News text is as important or even more important than photographs in influencing politicians’ public image, write Hajo Boomgaarden, of University of Vienna, Mark Boukes, of University of Amsterdam, and Aurora Iorgoveanu, who is a business intelligence analyst with the Holcim Group in Romania.

The authors conducted an experiment with 296 Dutch university students. The students we shown constructed news articles about fictional political candidates. The candidates were men in some of the stories and women in others. Some of the stories had negative texts but positive images, and vice versa for others. Similarly, some stories were negative or positive throughout. After reading the stories, the students were asked to evaluate the candidates’ competence and integrity.

In terms of competence, the type of photograph had barely any effect. Instead, the tone of the text had a significant impact on the audience’s evaluations. With regard to integrity assessments, both photographs and text had a slight effect.

Gender played only a marginal role in the evaluations, the study found. One interesting discovery was made, however: favourable photographs may in some cases have negative effects for female politicians. Paired with an unfavourable text, an attractive image decreased their perceived integrity.

The study “Image Versus Text” was published by the International Journal of Communication. It is freely available online (open access).

Picture: Election Night Newspaper Stand by Adrianne Mathiowetz, licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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