The Science Behind Imagery

The Science Behind Imagery

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This article has been contributed by Russel Cooke.

We’ve all heard it a zillion times, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and we have also seen the statistics that prove images included with content get 94% more views than those without. Our brains are constantly consuming both pictures and text while constantly processing many different thoughts and ideas.

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Though our minds process images much faster than text, what types of pictures are more powerful than others? Why are faces so popular when it comes to using visual imagery?

Curious Face

Why elicit human emotions using faces?

W.C. Fields said “never work with children or animals,” but his screenwork didn’t have the potential of reaching viral proportions online as those with kids, cats and dogs often do. After studying over 100 million articles, BuzzSumo found that content and imagery that invoke awe (25%), laughter (17%) amusement (15%) and joy (14%) were the most popular. I think that we can all safely agree that the faces of babies, kittens and puppies get the biggest “aw” factor.

Why use familiar faces?

While celebrity faces are easily recognizable, the brain is hard-wired for facial recognition on many levels. The perception of faces elicits responses in our minds on a both a visual and extended level, using different portions of our brain’s activity (limbic and prefrontal).

Why should we use faces that show emotions?


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Humans are naturally curious creatures and connect with our fellows through emotions. If we see a picture of a man’s face that shows fear, we wonder what he could possibly be afraid of and an image of a woman crying will emotionally connect with us and ponder why she is upset.

What about individuality?

Individual facial characteristics that vary from person to person, is another reason that the human mind finds faces so fascinating. For example, people who have two different colored eyes, a rare condition called Heterochromia iridium, will not only give the naturally curious cause for a second look, but will also peak our interest and remain longer in our memory.

What is Pareidolia?

Do you ever see images in the clouds, the man in the moon, the shape of a face in a rock or a familiar facial shape inside a tree? This psychological phenomenon exists from our need to find familiarity within randomness, referred to as Pareidolia. Our brains are hard-wired to find facial recognition even when it doesn’t really exist in reality.


Why not landscapes?

Visions of a wide open landscape or picturesque seashore evokes an instant sense of well being and contentment. Psychologists theorize that this response stems back to our ancient days of roaming the wilderness. Though it gives us a sense of calm, it lacks that human connection that we yearn for eternally.

Is it intellect over emotion, or vice versa?

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Our mind is a complex leader that guides us through both intellect and emotion. While we may never fully understand or utilize our brains completely, we can always appreciate its value for unending creativity and the power of our own thoughts.

Russel Cooke is a business consultant and writer from Baltimore, Maryland. He recently relocated to Los Angeles, CA. You can follow Russel on Twitter @RusselCooke2

5 thoughts on “The Science Behind Imagery”

  1. Mr. Cooke, a great overview! Thank you for the research and insights. Given that you are an instructor, I’m guessing that you may use this article again; if so, there is a small typo:
    “peak our interest” should be “pique our interest.”

  2. Nice article Russel. I liked your thought and the statistics about the content and imagery and the psychological effect when we use emotional faces in our content. Keep up the good writing!

  3. Really interesting. I had never thought about the precise emotions being conveyed, since we tend to think more conceptually when creating our images. Great reminder on keeping all aspects of ethos in mind when composing images and shoots!

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