New research on the efficiency of visual communications

Research from Dartmouth and Georgia State suggests graphs are more likely to change stubborn minds than text alone. The research looked into why, when the facts prove reality, people will still reject the truth when it differs from their tightly held beliefs. Can graphs help change their minds? Yes!

The editor at Fast Company goes on to suggest that if you are willing to lie and represent a falsehood visually people will believe that as well. True, but not the intent of the originally researchers. Below is one of their experimental charts and the results of sharing it with a given audience.

Is the trend going up or not?

Graphs are more likely than text to change the minds of people with strong beliefs.


Fast Company: Infographics can save morons from themselves.

Here’s the research conclusion below, and the original paper.

This paper makes two principal contributions to research on motivated reasoning and political misperceptions. First, we show that affirming self-worth can reduce misperceptions among respondents who are most likely to resist acknowledging uncomfortable facts about an issue. Second, we show that it is possible to provide subjects with graphical information that improves the accuracy of their factual beliefs. These results help us understand why individuals resist discordant claims and the means by which they do so.

These results have differing normative implications. On the one hand, they highlight the exciting possibility that graphical corrections can reduce misperceptions more effectively than text. However, the results underscore the psychological factors that make misperceptions so difficult to reduce. Among motivated subgroups, receiving the affirmation treatment (but not any corrective information) leads to better performance on factual questions across three studies. This result suggests that many of these respondents know the correct answers but were unwilling or unable to acknowledge that fact if they were not affirmed. In other words, self-affirmation may be important not because it makes people more open to new information, but because it allows them to accept dissonant information they already possess but would otherwise reject. These effects were largest relative to the effect of the graph treatment in our Iraq experiment

(Study 1) but were also significant in our studies of perceptions about job growth under President Obama (Study 2) and global temperature change (Study 3).