Primed to Kvetch

Iwo Jima flag raising

One of our graduate students wrote a crisp and tidy thesis about the effects of photography on sympathy and we’re just about ready send off her findings for review.

Marta Barberini, now back home in Italy, worked with Mercy Corps during her Portland stint and found a way to integrate her passion for photography with Mercy Corps’ mission to eliminate poverty.

Marta joined forces with folks at Decision Research, a group particularly interested in how people form attitudes and judgments about risks. They liked Marta’s ideas, that some photos more than others can evoke certain emotional feelings and even behaviors, so they collaborated on a survey that tested effects of photography.

The study did what good communication research should do: test our assumptions about how the world works and see if the findings fly. Marta wanted to know if the images used by organizations like Mercy Corps are effective in generating donations.

Photographers have a good sense of what photos elicit responses and marketers use such images to boost causes. Recall the famous snapshot of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, used in World War II to sell war bonds.

Marta wondered of the soulful gaze of children can be effective in raising funds, so she tested how folks respond to imagery and found that sad faces generate sadness in viewers. An interesting finding was that happy faces make viewers happy, but not to the same degree that sad pictures yield sad feelings.

Makes me wonder if we’re wired to feel sad: are we more likely to embrace sadness rather than joy? Is this a similar to the notion that bad news is more memorable than happy news?

Are we primed to kvetch?


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, film, framing, health, journalism, news bias, risk, science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Primed to Kvetch

  1. It was moving for me to discover that Ira Hayes (southern/central Arizona Pima – Native American) was involved in this historic event – one of the six and one of 3 in the photo who survived the battle.


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