Why Visual Content Works: Top 5 Reasons Backed Up By Science

Human communication exists for about 30.000 years but it was not text based from the start. Text, known to us for 3.700 years, took a central stage in 15th century with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. At that time graphics and visuals were too costly to be included so it took several centuries and significant cut of printing costs before visuals resurfaced again and shifted our entire culture from textual to visual literacy.

Today we live in an age of visual communication where visual content plays an important part in our lives and whose traces can be seen everywhere: on maps, instruction guidelines, packaging, appliances, restaurants, museums, etc. Why is that the case? As we looked for some answers we discovered several researches that could help us understand the effect that visual content has on our mind (brain).

1. It’s What Our Brains Are Made For
Sound, sight, touch, smell and taste are five traditionally recognized methods of perception or five senses that help us make the sense of the world. However, researches have shown that more of our neurons are dedicated to vision than the other four senses combined. According to John Medina, the author of book Brain Rules, there is an ongoing battle between our olfactory and visual cortex (parts of brain dedicated to processing scents vs. visual information) and the vision is winning. Mr. Medina pointed out that due to limited space in our brain something simply has to give: “About 60 percent of our smell-related genes have been permanently damaged in this neural arbitrage and they are marching toward obsolescence at a rate fourfold faster than any other species sampled”. 

2. It Sticks To Our Long-term Memory
If you hear a piece of information few days later you will only remember 10%. But if you add a picture to that information, recall goes up to 65%. Dr. Lynell Burmark, an education consultant and author or several books on visual literacy believes that: “…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about 7 bits of information (this is why, by the way, we have up to 7-digit phone numbers). Images, on the other hand, go directly into long term memory where they are indelibly etched”. Take for example two types of description for one object – a circle. Textual description is lengthy and complicated proving it’s much easier to show than to describe a circle.

3. It Expedites and Increases Our Comprehension
If you want to communicate an idea quickly and to a large audience the best way to do it is to use an image. According to many researches it takes only 150ms to process an image and additional 100ms to attach any meaning to it. Combined with words visuals can improve learning by up to 400 percent. Robert E. Horn, from Stanford University for the Study of Language and Information, said: “When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new and we augment our communal intelligence… visual language has the potential for increasing ‘human bandwidth’ – the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information”.

4. It Causes Stronger and Lasting Reaction
How many times have you heard: “I didn’t believe it until I saw it”? According to studies seeing-is-believing-idea may actually be very true. The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab asked 2.440 participants to evaluate credibility of web sites that were shown to them. Almost half (46.1%) said that the design of web site is the primary way to evaluate credibility of presented material. Visuals help users to engage with the content, which in the end influences information retention. That happens because the visual memory is encoded in the medial temporal lobe of the brain – the same place where emotions are processed. That enables visual stimuli and emotional response to be easily linked and to create memories.

5. It Pushes Us to Action
The principle of Cognitive Fluency teaches us that the easier it is to think about something, the easier it is to act upon something. As we are constantly bombarded with information that are coming from our senses the brain acts as a gatekeeper that erases everything that we don’t need to deal with at the moment. So, if you want your brand to be noticed you need to find a way to avoid the gatekeeper and reduce complex information into a simple idea or visual. Just look at traffic signs, they are the best examples of that principle in the real world.

Hopefully these researches helped you realize one thing: words are good but not good enough. Next time you want to communicate your message and influence your audience in a more meaningful and long lasting way don’t forget to include visuals! And trust us, creating them with Content Creator couldn’t be easier!