The primes of our times? An examination of the 'power' of visual images

David Domke, David Perlmutter, Meg Spratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


Claims by political and news elites about the influence of visual images are far more common than actual evidence of such effects. This research attempts to gain insight into the 'power' of visual images, specifically those that accompany lexical-verbal messages in the press. We argue that the widely held notion that vivid images often drive public opinion is overly simplistic; in contrast, we posit that images most often interact with individuals' existing understandings of the world to shape information processing and judgments. With this in mind, we conducted an experiment in which news coverage was systematically altered - as including a famous photograph widely attributed great influence, or not - within otherwise constant information environments. Findings suggest that visual news images (a) influence people's information processing in ways that can be understood only by taking into account individuals' predispositions and values, and (b) at the same time appear to have a particular ability to 'trigger' considerations that spread through one's mental framework to other evaluations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-159
Number of pages29
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Icons
  • Information processing
  • News media
  • Photojournalism
  • Priming
  • Visual images


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