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An image is worth a 1,000 words

Olivier Trendel est enseignant-chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management, spécialisé dans le comportement du consommateur.
Published on
21 December 2018

A recent study demonstrated that changing hard set opinions, and thereby changing behaviors, is best achieved using images or illustrated text instead of plain text. In particular, images are recommended for public awareness and safety prevention campaigns. How can these findings be applied to business?

Olivier Trendel is a professor and researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management who specializes in consumer behavior. He is the co-author, along with Marc Mazodier and Kathleen D. Vohs, of a recent publication on the power of images and text (published in The Journal of Marketing, April 2018).

The researchers’ study concluded that images have a greater impact than words. When we process information, we use two types of thinking (fast and slow as explained by Daniel Kahneman*). “Fast thinking is quite basic. And an image can modify deeply set opinions. All of this was measured using implicit measurements that enabled us to analyze the various neuronal connections that are spontaneously activated in the brain,” adds Trendel. 

The researchers’ study concluded that images have a greater impact than words

To raise awareness, it’s best to use images or text with images

“Psychological research has demonstrated that when a person is given written arguments on a specific topic, the person will quite easily change opinions at the level of slow, logical thinking. However, if you look at fast, intuitive thinking, opinions will often remain unchanged,” explains Trendel. “Our research explains that to change the ‘fast’ thinking level, it’s much more efficient to create new mental images, thus the importance of using images or text with images.”

How can this be applied to companies?

For example, images are particularly recommended for raising awareness about disabilities or psycho-social risks. 

  • To raise awareness about disabilities and overcome prejudice: Instead of explaining in words how work stations can accommodate disabled workers, it’s more efficient to use an image of a disabled worker at his or her work station. “The more dynamic the image (e.g., videos), the more efficient they are,” adds Trendel.
  • To prevent workplace risks: Illustrating the long term consequences of bad posture is a very efficient means of modifying attitudes and workplace behavior. “By changing deeply anchored mental images, we can change habits. This is essential to change behavior and spontaneous postures.”
  • On the topic of addiction: Much like “shock” photos placed on cigaret packaging, the more a habit is deeply anchored, the stronger the negative image will have to be in order to modify other addictions such as alcohol. “The impact of repetitive, realistic negative images has been demonstrated.”

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that: “Even if people believe they have honestly changed their opinion thanks to rational arguments, that doesn’t mean they’ve changed deep set mental perceptions. Racial prejudice (which is tied to fast thinking) in the U.S. is an excellent example. Despite Obama’s time as President, the majority of white people continue to have racial bias towards African Americans in their daily life. And this applies even to people who openly voice their non-racist beliefs. One method of modifying these ingrained mental associations is to create new mental images,” concludes Trendel.

* Kahneman (2011), Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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