Note 11/8/12: While FARM helped fund this study and is intrigued by the results, we do not believe that this is the final word on graphic vs. non-graphic imagery. We hope this study and this post contribute meaningfully to the dialogue about this topic.
FARM’s Sabina Fund recently helped fund a study, conducted by Chris Monteiro,* to determine whether images of farmed animals that are low, moderate or high in graphic detail (gore produced by violence) was most effective at improving attitudes toward animal rights. The images used, from low graphic detail to high, were: a dead pig on a muddy slaughterhouse floor, a dead pig on a bloody slaughterhouse floor, and a dead pig with their throat slit on a bloody slaughterhouse floor. The images’ effects on attitudes towards animal rights were measured using the Wuensch animal rights scale, a high score on which indicates positive attitudes towards animal rights, and a low score indicates negative attitudes towards animal rights (Wuensch, Jenkins, & Poteat, 2002). There were multiple interactions between personality characteristics and the effects of the different images, and the two most relevant to activists are discussed here.
The Overall Effects
The above graph depicts the primary effects of the images: the low graphic detail image was the most effective, the moderate graphic detail image was less effective and the high graphic detail image was the least effective, although this effect was not statistically significant. What this means is that, though the images affected attitudes towards animal rights to different degrees, there’s about a 15% chance we could have gotten this result even if the images had no effect. We asked participants to rate the level of graphic detail of the image they saw, and no relationship between their rating and the effect of the image, suggesting that an individual’s perception of the degree of graphic detail in an image does not affect the effects that image has on their attitudes towards animal rights. Therefore, it may be beneficial for activists to try to agree on some objective criteria for determining degree of graphic detail, and not attempt to determine it subjectively.
Right Wing Authoritarianism
Individuals high in right wing authoritarians tend to agree with statements like “Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us” and disagree with statements like “Gays and lesbians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else” (Altemeyer, 2007). There are certain social institutions and groups whose members tend to be higher in RWA. These organizations include the Catholic Church, the Conservative/Republican party, fundamentalist religious groups in general and the Tea Party.
For participants high in RWA (the green line), viewing the low graphic condition resulted in the attitudes most supportive of towards animal rights, the moderately graphic condition resulted in the worst, and the highly graphic condition resulted in attitudes towards animal rights slightly better than the moderate condition. For individuals low in RWA (the blue line), viewing the moderately graphic condition resulted in the most positive attitudes towards animal rights, the low graphic condition the second best, and the highly graphic condition was the worst.
These results suggest that, when designing media to distribute or display to members of groups high in RWA, whether they’re conservative colleges or Catholic Church congregations, the best images to use will be the least graphic. When designing materials for those low in RWA, such as liberal colleges and members of other progressive social movements, it seems that a slightly more graphic image (in this experiment, one including blood but no wound) would work best.
*Chris Monteiro is a senior in the psychology program at UMass Boston. He works as project coordinator in the Milburn Lab of Social and Political Psychology and is the task force coordinator for the Carnism Awareness & Action Network. Questions and requests for a more complete report including the methodology are welcome and can be sent to email@example.com.
Altemeyer, B. (2007). The Authoritarians. Retrieved from http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/
Milburn, M.A., & Conrad, S.D. (1996). The Politics of Denial. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press
Wuensch, K. L., Jenkins, K. W., & Poteat, G. (2002). Misanthropy, idealism and attitudes towards animals. Anthrozoös, 15(2), 139-149.