Viewing Animal Portraits (06-18-20)

Whitley, Kalof, and Flach determined that looking at close-up portraits of animals, as opposed to images that show the same sorts of animals in the contexts of their natural environments, has special effects on our responses to those animals.  The investigators studied, via an online survey, “how individuals respond to traditional wildlife photography and animal portraiture. Those who were exposed to animal portraits reported increased empathy and decreased positive and relaxed emotions. We engage critical anthropomorphism, arguing that it is an essential tool to encourage conservation efforts and that animal portraiture may be an ideal ‘attention grabber,’ after which wildlife images can serve as ‘educators.’”  The researchers share that “animal portraiture is an approach that frames animals in ways that mimic the human studio portrait and has been established as influential in invoking feelings of kinship with animals. . . . Animal portraiture is a representational approach used in conservation photography that is designed to highlight animal personality and character and evoke emotion from the viewer.. . . .We examine viewers’ reactions to photographs of wildlife pictured in natural settings compared with the same species photographed in a portrait setting.”

Cameron Whitley, Linda Kalof, and Tim Flach.  “Using Animal Portraiture to Activate Emotional Affect.” Environment and Behavior, in press,