Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Picture Power? The Contribution of Visuals and Text to Partisan Selective Exposure

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Abstract:  Today’s high-choice media environment allows citizens to select news in line with their political preferences and avoid content counter to their priors. So far, however, selective exposure research has exclusively studied news selection based on textual cues, ignoring the recent proliferation of visual media. This study aimed to identify the contribution of visuals alongside text in selective exposure to pro-attitudinal, counter-attitudinal and balanced content. Using two experiments, we created a social media-style newsfeed with news items comprising matching and non-matching images and headlines about the contested issues of immigration and gun control in the U.S. By comparing selection behavior of participants with opposing prior attitudes on these topics, we pulled apart the contribution of images and headlines to selective exposure. Findings show that headlines play a far greater role in guiding selection, with the influence of images being minimal. The additional influence of partisan source cues is also considered.

Keywords:  balanced content; experimental research; image; selective exposure; text; visual communication


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© Thomas E. Powell, Toni G. L. A. van der Meer, Carlos Brenes Peralta. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.