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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 19-Oct-12

 


Friday 19-October-12

Photos lend credibility

'A picture never lies' is an old saying, but which has never been completely true. In the days of Soviet Russia, people would mysteriously 'disappear' from official photographs. More recently, photo editing software is now so easily available and so clever that it is very simple to change digital photographs.

Yet people still are very likely to believe a photograph, and certainly more than a textual narrative. Only if their suspicions are aroused by some external event will they start to wonder what is true or not. Even then, the picture may be the last thing that is questioned.

And even more, a totally irrelevant photograph can lend credence to a piece of writing. It is almost as if the message is 'here's a photo, which must be true, so this text must be true too'. Which is perhaps why many articles and blogs include photographs.

Researchers showed people text saying 'John Doe is alive' (where John Doe was a famous person). When a picture of John Doe was included, more people assessed the statement as being true. They then showed subjects the statement 'Macademia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches', with some also being shown a photograph of macademia nuts'. Again, more of those shown the photo thought the statement was true, despite the photo adding no evidence to support the case.

Reference
Newman E.J., Garry M, Bernstein D.M., Kantner J., and Lindsay D.S. (2012). Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review (in print).


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I'd love to think that the researchers also included pictures of people happily reading their study in the study.

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