Pictures trump words in changing minds

I recently came across this fascinating article on Forbes.com about how, if you want to change minds, use visual content:

Our brains privilege visual information over any other kind. More processing power is devoted to it. Studies have shown that we understand images more quickly than words and remember them longer.

The article discusses a study in which the researchers sought to persuade people holding one set of strong political beliefs (liberal or conservative) that the president representing the opposing political party (George W. Bush or Barack Obama) had a successful policy: In the case of Bush, that violence decreased in Iraq after the Surge; for Obama, that the number of jobs increased during his first year in office.

persuasion-chart

What the researchers found worked was not an explanatory paragraph, or an appeal to ego, but a simple graph showing the data before and after the event.

Coming from a journalism background, I had been trained to consider graphics as an afterthought. The photos and figures would support my words, and only if there was room, not the other way around! But in looking at how technology has changed our world and how it has allowed us to receive information in much richer ways, it seems that the opposite is true. We should become better at writing to support, dissect, and explain what a graphic is showing.

There will always be a need for good writing, but if the main goal is to persuade, inform, or connect to audiences, especially on a global level, a picture is always worth a thousand words.