Yum, those burgers looks good …

Adding visuals to menus (and reports) creates interest and boosts credibility.

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Studies have shown that adding  icons and photos to restaurant menus increase sales up to 30% for the featured items.

The visuals draw attention to the items … if done well, they stimulate diners’ senses.

OK, we’ve all be menu-enticed … that’s not news.

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But, did you know that simply adding a visual – a graph or chart  or formula — to a report can boost the credibility of a conclusion by 50% or more?

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Two Cornell researchers — Aner Tal and Brian Wansink — ran a couple of different experiments on visual impact and reported their findings in an article with the ominous title: “Blinded with Science: Trivial Graphs and Formulas Increase Ad Persuasiveness and Belief in Product Efficacy” .

In one experiment, subjects were given information about a medication that supposedly increased immune response and decreased the chance of catching colds.

Half were shown a text summary of results and a  bar chart purportedly illustrating the medication’s effects; the other half of the sample were shown only the summary text.

When the claim about the drug’s effectiveness was presented in text form only, 67% of research participants said they believed it.

But when the text was accompanied by a simple graph making exactly the same claim, 97% believed it.

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What’s going on?

Many (most?) people are more comfortable with pictures than words … and way more comfortable with words than numbers.

And, when data is “visually-asserted” in a chart or diagram there is a common cognitive bias to consider the results as final & uncontestable– less susceptible to disagreement than a simple text statement.

Said differently, readers are inclined to take the results at face value —  “even if their scientific foundation, validity and essential truthfulness are opaque.”

Ironically, ”The higher participants’ belief in science, the more they were affected by the presence of graphs.”

Similar results were obtained when text was accompanied by a mathematical formula – even a simple one.

One hypothesis: many respondents get intimidated by flashes of math – and simply capitulate intellectually.

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