What do the academics say? The benefits of uninformative photos

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – a little study from New Zealand about how even an uninformative photo helps convince people about the truth of a statement.

The British Psychological Society’s blog has details:

When we’re making a snap judgement about a fact, the mere presence of an accompanying photograph makes us more likely to think it’s true, even when the photo doesn’t provide any evidence one way or the other…

Ninety-two students in New Zealand and a further 48 in Canada looked at dozens of “true or alive statements” about celebrities, some of whom they’d heard of and some they hadn’t, such as “John Key is alive”. As fast as they could, without compromising their accuracy, the students had to say whether each statement was true or not. Crucially, half the statements were accompanied by a photo of the relevant celebrity and half weren’t. The take-home finding: the participants were more likely to say a statement was true if it was accompanied by a photo. This was the case for claims about celebrities being alive or dead, but the effect was stronger for unfamiliar celebrities.

However it may be that the effect is generated simply by having other information, whether in photo form or not:

Another, similar study was conducted but sometimes celebrity “dead or alive” statements were accompanied by simple verbal descriptions of the celebrities that weren’t helpful for judging the dead-or-alive claim. These verbal descriptions also had a “truthiness” effect, which suggests the truthy effect of photos isn’t unique to them, but must instead have to do with some kind of non-specific process that makes it easier for the mind to seek out confirmatory evidence for the claim that’s being judged.

Hat-tip: Simon McGrath.

You can read the other posts in our What do the academics say? series here.

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