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What can you get from a photograph?

What can you get from a photograph?

Photographer:Fotograaf: How to describe someone you only know from a photograph? Friendly? Authoritarian? Reliable? Competent?

Students’ research

MAASTRICHT. How to describe someone you only know from a photograph? Friendly? Authoritarian? Reliable? Competent? That was the key question in the Marble research by Roderick Bronzwaer, who completed his bachelor’s in Psychology in July. For the tests, he went to Hong Kong, where he showed test subjects photographs of politicians from the Netherlands and from Hong Kong, and asked them to mark the characteristics that they felt belonged to the persons in the photographs. They were also asked if they would vote for any of them. “The advantage of using politicians is that you can check against the actual votes that someone gets. That way you can compare whether the judgement of the test subjects is the same as that of people who really know the person in the photograph.” In the meantime fellow-student Lonneke Ram carried out the same research in Maastricht with Dutch test subjects.

“This research has been carried out before by an American among Americans and Japanese,” says Bronzwaer.  “We repeated it with a few minor changes. In the original study, the participants were only shown photographs of men, whereas we used photographs of both men and women.” Lonneke Ram looked at the differences between sexes (“The leader stereotypes are correct: men were more likely to be judged as powerful and competent.”), while Bronzwaer investigated cultural differences.

He concluded that the Dutch were more likely to refer to someone as having a warm personality than the Chinese. “This was something that did not appear in the original American study.” Bronzwaer has a theory about this. “I think it is because Asians have a holistic way of thinking: they assess things in relationship to the surroundings. They don’t get much from just a photograph and it is difficult to read reliability and warmth from someone’s face. Westerners generally think analytically: they focus on the thing that they need to assess.”

Bronzwaer immediately admits that to be certain about such things more research needs to be done. His project was not without difficulties. “The test subjects were not supposed to have seen the person in the photograph beforehand. In Maastricht they therefore looked at photographs of city council politicians from Amsterdam, but it was not so easy in Hong Kong. When someone was recognised, we discarded that photograph from the results, but we should really have excluded the test subject.”

Finding test subjects was no easy task either. “The Chinese do not like to say no, so when I asked someone if he or she wanted to participated, they always said yes. Eventually, only 20 per cent actually showed up.” It has not dampened his enthusiasm for research. “I think it would be great to do a PhD.”

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