Check this recent finding reported in a fascinating piece from the British Psychological Society blog on the effects of combining images, even ones that offer the reader no specific information, with statements, and the resulting effect on people's perception of the 'truthiness' of said statements:
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. In the words of (researcher) Eryn Newman and her colleagues, uninformative photographs "inflate truthiness".
It is pretty much a given these days about the importance of imagery on the web, (witness the incredible growth and emerging impact of Pinterest and Instagram, both primarily visual platforms), and the need for communicators and marketers of every kind to figure out how to use a combination of visual imagery, video, audio, text, etc. to help their messages stand out in a crowded market for attention. But this research takes the idea a step further, and possibly makes the communicator's job a little simpler, i.e., that it really doesn't matter too much what images are included with the message, just that some kind of image is present.
More from the BPS piece:
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.
Fantastic stuff - slap a semi-related image up along with whatever statement you are trying to pass off as the 'truth', and bam - all of a sudden the 'truthiness' of whatever you are trying to sell is increased.
Admittedly this is kind of a goofy story, but one I think raises an interesting question, that is, how often are we truly being manipulated, even if subtly, by the mere existence of that well-placed image, or that perfectly Instagrammed and filtered shot that accompanies every other tweet, status update, or web page that we see?
How often are we being tricked into believing something that seems at first read to be wrong, or at least to be a little off, but we get distracted by a fancy image just long enough to lose focus and go along with whatever the savvy communicator wants us to think?
How many blog posts have you read and thought, 'That is a clever picture. That writer really knows their stuff?'