The next time you tell a little white lie (or a big fat one, for that matter), try pairing it with a decorative photograph—perhaps of you smiling or giving a double thumbs up.
If you do, odds are the other person will believe you, according to new research that found people will agree with a false claim if it’s paired with an illustrative photograph.
Putting comedian Stephen Colbert’s catchphrase, "truthiness" —the feeling that something is true—to the test, scientists from New Zealand and Canada presented study participants with a series of claims, such as "the liquid metal inside a thermometer is magnesium," and asked them to agree or disagree. Some of the claims were paired with an image, such as a thermometer, while others appeared alone.
"We wanted to examine how the kinds of photos people see every day—the ones that decorate newspaper or TV headlines, for example—might produce 'truthiness,'" said lead investigator Eryn J. Newman of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, in a press release. "We were really surprised by what we found."
According to the findings, people were more apt to believe a claim, true or false, if it was paired with a photo. One theory posed by researchers is that the accompanying images might evoke more tangible ideas or information about the claim, which could give it a feeling of validity.
"We know that when it’s easy for people to bring information to mind, it ‘feels’ right,” Newman said. However, she worries that these images might have negative implications in media and education, where people often encounter visual imagery.
"Decorative photos grab people's attention," she said. "Our research suggests that these photos might have unintended consequences, leading people to accept information because of their feelings rather than the facts."
So the next time you're watching television or reading the newspaper and come upon a statement that seems to belie all logic or fact, yet find yourself still wanting to believe it, take a moment and survey the scene. And if there's an attractive photo being paired with the claim, ask yourself, "truth or truthiness?"
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