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Aug 28

The Power of Visuals Over Words

Did you know that the largest component of the human brain is the visual cortex which is responsible for the processing of visual information? It comes as no surprise that the mind is hardwired to preferentially process visual information over text. Reading, it is important to understand, is a skill that is taught and learnt whereas understanding graphical imagery is innate. Language of pictures transcends cultural barriers to become universal.

Picture superiority effect

Visual information is recalled easily as compared to text. The effect which explains this phenomenon is the picture superiority effect. Demonstration of this effect has been explained in many experiments, each using different methods. Basis of the hypothesis is on the idea that the human mind is sensitive to any information which is a symbolic presentation of a series of events. There are many popular theories which attempt to explain the picture superiority effect like Nelson-Sensory semantic theory, Paivio-Dual coding theory and Weldon & Roediger-transfer appropriate processing theories. The standard theory popularly accepted is the Dual Coding Theory.

Dual coding theory

Proposed by Allan Paivio, the dual coding theory forms the basis of understanding picture superiority effect. Hypothesis of this theory is based on the assumption that mental images aid the process of learning. According to Paivio, there are only two methods of expansion of what is learnt: through visual images and verbal associations. The theory of dual-coding proposes that both elements (association and images) are used as assimilate information. Processing routes are different and so are the physical channels for each. While a person can choose a way, use of one channel does not eliminate the other. Consider a stored stimulus of the word ‘ship’. On recalling the word, it may either be the word ‘ship’ or an image of a ship or an image with the word below. If the word is recalled, the image of the ship can be retrieved when needed.

There are limitations to the dual- coding theory because it does not take into account a third way of learning. Research in this field is insufficient to draw conclusions.

Power of visual content

Going back to the dawn of civilization, human communication was greatly pictorial. Existence of language came about recently, 3700 years ago. Communication was still prevalent in the gap between the beginning and the inception of language, but not in the form of words or sentence structure that we now understand. During this period, the brain had time to strengthen visual messages making processing of pictures and colors faster than words. Research suggests that words are processed 60,000 times slower than pictures.

Look at popular social media sites like Instagram- what is Instagram but a place for sharing pictures with a few captions? So is Snapchat. Then there is Facebook which allows picture and text content.
Recent research identified that attention span in humans is dropped to 8 second which is lesser than that of a goldfish. The focus here is not to understand the underlying reasons for the steep fall in attention span but to exploit the 8 seconds to maximum capacity. Say, the mind takes a second to understand an image or a video, the remainder 7 seconds can be used to engage customers in the way they seem fit.
Visual content is powerful in deciding who leads and who lags in the world of marketing. Research concludes that the chances of sale of a product are increased by 85% when the shopper watches a video of the same item. Sharing of digital information within stores is simpler than ever given the rise in digital technology.

Strategies for a stronger visual impact

  • It’s all a play of emotions, tap into it and you have a winner: During the process of decision making, brain scans reveal that the most active region is the emotional center. If you don’t believe it, ask a charitable organization- it is an emotional story that moves donators not facts and figures.
  • Test images like you would with text: You will agree that judging pictures objectively is difficult. An efficient way of testing pictures is through Facebook advertising. For as less as $250, there are over 1000 opinions- an invaluable feedback.
  • Pictures and words: Why are toddlers taught using picture books with associative words? Because, it is the most effective way of making a memory permanent. If you want the same effect with advertising, pair a strong picture with a catchy caption.
  • Portray feelings which you want to inspire: As humans we are equipped with mirror neurons, we feel what the others feel- the science behind empathy. When we are shown pictures of struggle, there is an unpleasant emotion stirred. The use of emotional play is underrated in pictorial representation. Show positive images to portray those problems which are being currently addressed.

A picture is definitely worth a thousand words, use it right and success is a certainty.