Pictures communicate tremendous amounts of information in digestible and comprehensible bits of visual data. Sophisticated concepts can be broken down into something anyone can understand.
Cutting $100M from the federal budget: See, for example, this classic YouTube video of what it means that Obama is going to cut $100M from the federal budget. Wow. It seemed a lot bigger when I heard it than it did when I saw it.
Lifetime risk of maternal death in developed vs developing countries: Don’t use pie charts—they don’t work well when trying to depict small numbers. Instead, use bar charts and columns to show the difference between 1 in 8,000 and 1 in 76. Look how clear those hard-to-visualize numbers become!
Risk of being killed by animals: What are the most dangerous creatures in the world? Would it be sharks, bears or lions? Surprisingly, no. The most dangerous creature is the mosquito (killing 3M/year)!
When you have a technical, complex, or simply dry and tedious fact pattern, a picture (also known as visual graphics, infographics, or demonstrative evidence) can help jurors wade through the hours and hours of testimony in words and have a visual in mind as they consider the evidence. We’ve seen the powerful graphics and the weak. Images that hit and efforts that miss. Invest money in visual evidence and test it in pre-trial research. You’ll get invaluable feedback on the user-friendliness of the visuals and your message will be communicated clearly and carried into the deliberation room by each juror.
“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Most of us think pictures are more persuasive than words. Recently I ran across a sentence in an article saying “it’s commonly believed that we remember 20% of what we hear and 80% of what we see”. Or something to that effect. I don’t know about you but I don’t remember 80% of anything I hear or see and I have a pretty good memory. So I went to our trial consultant email list and asked who could tell me if the statement was supported by research for which they could identify a citation. Immediately, I began to get information from visual consultants.
The classic study in the field was from something called the Weiss-McGrath Report and it did say that we retain more in memory from pictures. In fact, the widely propagated [untrue] statement from that research was that there was a 650% increase in information retention by jurors when oral and visual evidence are combined. Wow! No wonder it is so widely cited. Too bad it isn’t even a little bit true [see pages 27-30 of the linked pdf for explanation]. Shortly thereafter, Ken Broda-Bahm wrote in to say that the study was quoted very often but was in fact misquoted and pretty bogus and based on an undocumented 1856 reference. (That isn’t a typo. We really mean 1856.) We were referred to Ken Lopez’ blog post examining visual persuasion. Finally, Laura Rochelois came to the rescue. She recommended we look into a book written in this century (2009) by Richard Mayer.
Mayer’s book is an academic text but there are myriad posts online reacting to Mayer’s work. Among the search results, we found chapter-by-chapter summaries in pdf format online at Michigan State University. Another nice resource is a 20 minute video interview with Mayer available on YouTube.
In part, Mayer says that it isn’t video or animation that results in learning. What results in learning is good instructional design and presentation. However, according to Mayer, optimal learning and retention is best when words and pictures are presented. Learning is increased between 64% and 121% according to studies Mayer completed between 1989 and 1996.
So the answer to the question about using pictures, words, or both? Not just pictures. Not just words. Both.
Richard E. Mayer (2009). Multimedia Learning, 2nd Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511811678
The picture illustrating this post increases the likelihood you will see the post content as true. Enough said. But, you know we’ll say more. This is a fascinating addition to the visual evidence posts already on our blog.
We agree that a well-designed visual can raise comprehension for jurors in a complex trial. What this research says is that certain types of uninformative graphics can also increase the likelihood that the written information accompanying the graphic is true. Or perhaps, truthier. After all, as Stephen Colbert is fond of saying, “You don’t look up truthiness in a book, you look it up in your gut.”
Researchers performed four different experiments with participants living in either New Zealand or Canada:
Experiment 1A and 1B: Showed participants pictures of celebrities (famous and otherwise) or no photo at all, along with statements that the celebrity was either alive or dead and participants were asked to judge the truth(iness) of this statement. When photos of the celebrity were included, the participants were more likely to assume the truth of the statement as to whether the person was alive or dead. The picture persuaded agreement.
Experiment 2: Showed participants the name of a celebrity (famous or otherwise) along with a photo (or not) and either no written description or a written description that was “nonprobative”–and always contained information on ethnicity, gender, hair, general occupation and a career-related concrete noun (e.g., “John Key is a white male, short brown straight hair, political leader, podium”). When the participants looked at these stimuli, they were equally likely to see truthiness when the stimuli had non-probative information as when there was a photo. In other words, there was not only a photo effect for truthiness of the alive or dead statement–when additional nonprobative information was added, the truthiness effect also occurred.
Experiment 3: Showed participants “nonprobative photos” (or no photo at all) along with accompanying text (which stated easy or difficult to know information). For example, a photo of a turtle accompanied a statement “Turtles are deaf” or a photo of macadamia nuts was shown next to a statement saying “Macadamia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches”. Again, photos produced a truthiness effect. When participants saw an illustrative albeit nonprobative photo, they were more likely to endorse the truth of the statement.
The researchers suggest that when we are given nonprobative information (in the form of photos or written information) we are more likely to presume the truth of that “pseudoevidence” we can see with our eyes. They describe their findings as “lovely” with the following charmingly non-academic conclusion:
“We describe the photo effect as “lovely” for two reasons. First, as compared to the other “truthiness-inducing manipulations” with which we have experience, the effect of nonprobative photos seems to be quite robust. [snip] Second, we believe that it is just plain cool that the same manipulation that can lead people to think that an obscure celebrity is alive can also lead them to think that the celebrity is dead.”
We concur (it is just plain cool). Although we think it would be a hard sell to tell that high-tech attorney (or the judge or opposing counsel for that matter) that we can just stick any old (nonprobative) photo on the visual evidence prepared for the jury or skip the photo altogether and just say “The plaintiff is correct” or “The defendant is correct” and then add some nonprobative text and it would be just as persuasive as a carefully designed piece of visual evidence.
An additional component of this phenomenon, though, seems to be one of ‘context’. People feel more comfortable making decisions if they understand the circumstances surrounding the topic, even if the circumstances are nonprobative.
We see this in focus groups all the time, when jurors listen carefully to information gathered in discovery, and start asking questions. Clients are often struck by the range of things that jurors feel would be helpful for them to know. When the juror is asked in response to their query “How would it be helpful to you to know that?” they sometimes have an answer, but often they explain “I don’t know. I’m just curious.” They seek truthiness. The attorney wishes they had held the group before discovery was closed and reports were final. And the next time around, that attorney conducts the focus group earlier in the litigation.
This is intriguing research that suggests that we are perhaps not as complex in our judgments as we would like to believe. And, it gives us a way to understand jury conclusions as to truth(iness) that otherwise make absolutely no sense to us at all.
Newman EJ, Garry M, Bernstein DM, Kantner J, & Lindsay DS (2012). Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness. Psychonomic bulletin & review PMID: 22869334
We are big fans of visual graphics. They condense complex ideas into digestible images. They help the layperson understand technical jargon in ways that make sense to them. Visual graphics help us to see that our fears are not necessarily in sync with the facts (as you see in this visual on the true odds of airborne terror). A good visual gives us perspective and information that informs us quickly and thoroughly.
And similarly, if we can see a video of a person (even for only 100 milliseconds) we can infer facial expression more accurately than we can in a still photograph. The video gives us context for our interpretation. Given these pieces of information, you might think that a picture or graphic is always better than words to communicate information. And if you think that, you would be wrong. Very wrong. How could you imagine such a thing?!
A new study reported by Research Digest blog provides an example of when we do better with text than graphics. In the hospital. Those graphs and charts are apparently often misinterpreted by harried and distracted staff! Researchers conclude that if those graphs were replaced or supplemented with short passages of text conveying the same information—fewer mistakes would be made.
It reminds me of a birth trauma case I recently consulted on that involved questions about proper interpretation of fetal monitor strips. One problem was that there were no strips. The entire system was digital—you read it on a monitor. The complication is that in order to see the pattern that has evolved throughout the labor, or through the last hour, you have to page back and back and back… and you can’t flip back and forth as easily. The image becomes less clear.
In the life and death decisions often made in hospitals, we want our medical professionals to make the most informed and accurate decisions they can. This study would indicate we should make sure medical professionals accurately interpreted graphic information in hospital charts and that their choices for intervention were consistent with those charts.
van der Meulen, M., Logie, R., Freer, Y., Sykes, C., McIntosh, N., & Hunter, J. (2010). When a graph is poorer than 100 words: A comparison of computerised natural language generation, human generated descriptions and graphical displays in neonatal intensive care. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24 (1), 77-89.
There has been a lot of reaction to the new graphic images the FDA will put on cigarette packs. From concerns about the government attempting to ‘regulate cool’ to derision and to concerns about the ‘shock value’ of the images, writers have been expressing their reactions. And so have researchers.
There is a long history of research in psychology that says, in essence, “fear backfires”. While the images may deter new smokers from starting the habit, it’s thought to be unlikely they will have impact on existing smokers.
On the other hand, according to researchers, photos that are memorable are those containing people (as opposed to landscapes). And the FDA’s images certainly qualify as featuring people. Thus they are likely memorable. But are they persuasive?
Well, that depends. We know that images can be very persuasive. The issue in this situation is, what are you trying to accomplish? In litigation, images can be powerful. We have seen burn injury photos that made jurors squirm with discomfort and react with anger-driven damage awards.
But in this case, the target is current smokers. And “fear backfires”. When you are using graphic images—consider the audience and the goal of your persuasive efforts.
If you want your targets to ‘stop’ doing something, fear will likely backfire.
If you want your targets to ‘react’ based on what they see and critically judge someone else, fear might be effective.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2011). What makes an image memorable? Science Daily (May 24)