‘Beautiful’ photos of the coronavirus reduces fear of infection


Does this black-and-white photo of the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus from an electron microscope seem more dangerous and infectious than the colour 3D rendition further down in the article? — Photos: US CDC

The “beautiful” pictures of the coronavirus used to illustrate “ugly” news stories on the Covid-19 pandemic may be having a negative influence on how the population sees the threat of infection, researchers have found.

Scientists from the University Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain say people are less scared of getting Covid-19 when they see a nice-looking depiction of a coronavirus particle in the media.

Meanwhile, the virus is perceived as more threatening and contagious when it is depicted in a black-and-white photo, which are less frequently used in reports, the researchers found.

The study has implications for media outlets, who have, since the start of the pandemic, largely been illustrating coronavirus stories with computer-generated, three-dimensional models or heavily edited, colourised photos, which the study participants described as “beautiful”.A typical colour 3D rendition of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has been used to illustrate many Covid-19 articles.A typical colour 3D rendition of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has been used to illustrate many Covid-19 articles.

“Most coronavirus images used were, precisely, colour 3D illustrations, indicating that the media was presenting beautiful images to talk about a very serious and ugly topic,” the researchers write.

“Thus, the question that arises at this point is whether or not the media should use beautiful or real images when offering information about such a serious and unpleasant topic as a pandemic.”

Real photos of the virus, which are only possible with an electron microscope, are black and white, and two-dimensional, unlike the usual “beautiful” images used alongside news reports.

The respondents considered these real photos to be more scientific, and said the coronavirus looked more infectious in these photos.

For their study, published in August (2021) in the journal Plos One, the scientists evaluated extensive questionnaires filled out by 333 anonymous participants between April and May 2020.

About the same number of women as men participated, and most of them had an academic education. – dpa

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