Are You Turning People Off with the Images You Use?

As humane educators and concerned citizens, we want to make sure that we're being as effective as possible, which is why it's important that we pay attention to any research that can help us improve our methods.

A recent post by Liz Banse on the Climate Access blog explores the importance of considering any images we use when engaging with the public.

Base offers the example of climate change. The polar bear has been a major icon for bringing attention to global warming issues, but research indicates that climate activists should change their tactics:

"Iconic climate change visuals like stranded polar bears are ineffective for two reasons, explains climate image researcher Dr. Kate Manzo of the University of Auckland. The images 'make (climate change) seem far away in time and space, and are paradoxical in the way they heighten people's sense of the issue's importance while simultaneously making them feel less able to do anything about it.'"

And there's the addition that some people (especially those living close to them), consider polar bears a danger.

Banse adds, "The wrong choice of a picture can turn someone off just as much, if not more, than the wrong choice of words. The most aesthetic picture is not always the most effective, just as the most intelligent-sounding word is not always the most effective."

She shares several tidbits from current research, including:
  • The fact that we engage immediately with faces (those making direct eye contact), especially baby faces.
  • Photos of distressing situations often cause us to pull back and focus on "self-preserving behavior," especially if the viewer feels there's nothing they can do to help.
  • Showing a single victim that people can identify with works better than showing a crowd of victims.
Banse offers two of her own guidelines for considering what images to use:

1. Find ways to connect locally, so that problems don't seem "too far away."
2. Always pair "problem" images with images that are "positive, hopeful solutions-oriented images."

Read the complete post.

I saw several of these best practices in action when I attended a humane education workshop last weekend. The workshop facilitators were sharing how they teach about humane issues with elementary school students. When talking about animal cruelty, for example, they showed an age-appropriate photo of one abused dog, who was making eye contact with the viewer, and told her story. At the end of the story they showed an "after" picture of the dog to highlight her happy ending and talked about what we all can do to help more dogs have happy endings.

Research like Banse highlighted in her post reveals just how thoughtful we need to be in creating presentations, lesson plans, and other tools, and even in considering what we share on our social media sites. We need to think carefully about what words and images are going to inspire positive action, and avoid words and images that may have the opposite effect.

~ Marsha

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