Does a picture tell a thousand words? The uses of digitally produced, multimodal pictures for communicating information about Alzheimer’s disease

Amy R Dobos, Lindy A Orthia, Rod Lamberts

This study explored the science communication potential of visual imagery by gauging an audience’s interpretations of digitally enhanced, multimodal pictures depicting topics from recent Alzheimer’s disease research. Guided by social semiotic theory, we created four pictures intended to communicate information about Alzheimer’s disease unidirectionally, for an audience who had expressed interest in receiving such information (subscribers to an Alzheimer’s disease research newsletter). We then disseminated the pictures to that audience via an online survey, to determine whether respondents received the messages we intended to convey. Our results demonstrated that, without accompanying explanatory text, pictures are most useful for evoking emotions or making loose connections between major concepts, rather than for communicating specific messages based on Alzheimer’s research. In addition, participants more often expressed anger and frustration when the meaning of scientific imagery was unclear than when the meaning of emotional–social imagery was unclear.

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