The Psychology of GIFs - Galvanize Action (2023)


June 7, 2022

We bring you the latest installment of it.Guest blog seriesEscrito por Laura Ligouri, CEO e fundadora da Nonprofit Organization for Neuroscience and Psychology,ponte mental.


The Psychology of GIFs - Galvanize Action (1)

GIFs have captured our imagination like nothing else. In many ways, GIFs have become something of a shortcut to the internet, depicting complex emotions with a single click and encompassing cultural concepts at lightning speed. GIFs have become so popular thatgiphyhas a user approval rating of over7 billion a day🇧🇷 So what's up with all the hype? Why have GIFs taken over the internet and, perhaps more importantly, why should we be using them in almost everything we do?

First, let's establish some basics of the brain:

  • Visual processing in the brain happens about 60,000 times faster than the way our brain processes text.
  • We prefer a moving image to a static one.
  • We will prefer the moving image of a person to the moving image of a landscape.

GIFs grab our attention because they capitalize on how our brains have evolved to see movement and prioritize faces. Our mind's eye anticipates forward movement, with one movement leading to the next. Within the animated photo of a looping GIF, however, the next move never happens, drawing our attention to something that never happens.

But it's more than just getting our attention. Conquer our hearts.

In an aptly named presentation at the 2014 Computing Machinery Association conference, "I have so many feelings!"Elli Boulaiand colleagues detail the extraordinary ways in which GIFs effortlessly capture our emotional landscape. Whether it's joy, sadness, disgust or shock, GIFs quickly express our feelings much better than a 280-character tweet. What is the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words?

In the consumer space, this insight has been utilized, intentionally deploying GIFs into consumer campaigns to effortlessly affect and, in many cases, improve the emotional state of social media users (Rúa-Hidalgo, et al., 2021🇧🇷 Consumers' subconscious response to GIFs increases the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.

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When it comes to social and political issues, the picture can become much more complex. Media and communication strategists must work in conditions that often make effective communication difficult, conditions such as trying to convey complex information in short periods of time or working to provide engaging or motivational content in a polarized environment. What should strategists do? GIFs can provide part of that answer.

Three core aspects of GIF popularity that directly support progress

#1 – Humor

Persuasion can be understood as an action or process in which arguments are presented to move, motivate or change your target audience. Motivation is different. Motivation is necessary to achieve change. And to achieve this change, many companies resort to facts to convince their audience.

But there's just one problem. Facts often don't work. (Moneythis good articlethis gives a closer look at why this is so.) So what should we do when we really need to present facts? How do we capture people's attention when the typical viewer scrolls through enough content to reach the height of the Statue of Liberty? Or keep that attention dry with statistical material as soon as we have it? Yep, you guessed it. gif

ONEmarketing message 2015noted how companies like Salesforce Marketing Cloud combined GIFs with search results to add humorous elements and culturally relevant reactions to their key points. This helped convey complex material while helping readers engage with the content.

The Psychology of GIFs - Galvanize Action (2)

Sometimes we need to communicate an emotionally charged idea, action or event where a negative emotional response can completely negate the desired effect. This is also where communicators can use the humor inherent in many GIFs as a buffer of sorts for a negative emotional response. A 2015 paper by Kugler and Kuhbander titled"It's not funny! But it should be"details how humor not only serves as a means of reducing negative emotional responses to difficult stimuli, but also as a way to enhance memory, helping viewers remember your content longer than simply engaging with it.

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#2 – Affiliation

Of course, there's nothing like a GIF for one-click access to pop culture. GIFs have the ability to compare one situation to a completely different one while still retaining an identifiable meaning. I present you an example:

The Psychology of GIFs - Galvanize Action (3)

We internalize GIFs like this because we engage with them on both an emotional and cognitive level. Perhaps they represent an aspect of our past (in this case, The Muppet Show) or our identity that is meaningful to us. We immediately connect with others who share this feeling, feeling a sense of belonging both to the image and to each other.

Of course, this can also have a downside.

The ease with which GIFs can capture culture and the latest trends can also serve to isolate people who don't know. Sometimes the images used in GIFs speak to a very specific body of knowledge and create a counterproductive effect by belonging to the exclusion. On the other hand, access to specific images can highlight your communications as sensitive to the likes and dislikes of this population. In short, it's important to consider the images you use and the ways in which they indicate ownership (or otherwise).

#3 - Ease of production

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Compared to text and still images, GIFs can compress a large amount of information into a small, shareable media format. They are also relatively easy and inexpensive to set up, making them the perfect companion for an organization that needs to move quickly through the political landscape.

And users beware. (You knew there would be cheating, right?)

The speed with which GIFs can be created also makes them vulnerable to other social processes where stereotypical, biased, or discriminatory imagery can quickly be incorporated into the name of a hot topic. There are currently an extraordinary number of GIFs online promoting what has been called"Digital Blackface"described byJardin Dogan, M.Ed., Ed.S., consultant and educator specializing in black mental health, such as "when non-black people use images and voices of black people to explain emotions or phenomena". In this case, the images perpetuate negative stereotypes about members of the black community and contribute to racial harm in the United States. As with any communication method or media campaign, it is worth pausing and considering how images and slogans can unintentionally impact members of marginalized or vulnerable communities.

get your gifs

As Richard Yao, director of strategy and content atIPG Media Labwrites, "GIFs will continue to exist as long as social media and messaging apps continue to dominate our digital interactions." And for good reason. GIFs invade our cognitive landscape and capture our emotions like no other. Here's a broad picture of opportunities to drive progress if we decide to take advantage of this resource. However, as with all things, you should intentionally pause to consider who may be unintentionally included, excluded, or harmed by the production of your images. After that, let the humor lead you to a brighter future.

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