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Cartoons are more persuasive than photos in changing opinions, says study

The power of cartoons to persuade can be of use to agencies working to educate the public about a science-laden concept – one for which they would like to change opinion, intentions or behaviours.

sex and relationships Updated: May 17, 2017 07:36 IST
Researchers say cartoons grab people’s attention long enough to deliver the message.
Researchers say cartoons grab people’s attention long enough to deliver the message.(Shutterstock)

Cartoons may be better than high-quality photographs at persuading people to change their stance or behaviour, a new study has found.

“Photographs were shown to be more credible, but cartoons were more likely to change behaviour,” said Lulu Rodriguez, professor at the University of Illinois in the US.

“A cartoon grabs people’s attention long enough to deliver the message,” said Rodriguez, who led the study.

In the study, participants were shown one of two versions of the same set of brochures. Each set was designed to debunk a myth about wind energy, the intent being to give readers scientific information about wind energy and assuage their fears.

People look at cartoons longer, so they’re more cognitively engaged with the cartoon, say researchers. (Shutterstock)

Each pair of brochures was identical in design, text, colour, size, etc.

The only difference was that the originally designed brochures featured a beautiful, professional photograph of wind turbines, while the look-alike brochures created for the study swapped out the photograph with a cartoon.

“You have to spend more time with a cartoon to figure out the meaning of the illustrations, and the situation,” Rodriguez said.

“People look at cartoons longer, so they’re more cognitively engaged with the cartoon. Usually it includes humour and people work hard at figuring out the punch line,” she said.

“The photos used to represent wind energy on the original brochures were just beautiful scenic shots of the turbine blades or a landscape dotted with turbines so people didn’t look at them as long,” she added.

One spends more time with a cartoon to figure out the meaning of the illustrations, and the situation, says the study. (Shutterstock)

The respondents said that content was better in the cartoon brochures (even though the text was identical), but the credibility was lower than the brochures using photographs.

The power of cartoons to persuade can be of value to agencies working to educate the public about a science-laden concept – one for which they would like to change opinion, intentions or behaviours.

The research was published in the Journal of Visual Literacy.

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