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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Exploring Empathy and a Range of Emotions Towards Protest Photographs


Images are a powerful medium known to induce empathy and emotional response in people. In political protests it has the power for a people-initiated policy change and signifies the deep symbolism of a political system. In this study, we aim to quantify the range of emotional connection a person experiences for photographs of a farmers' protest.The protest was the headlines in all media at the time this experiment was conducted and had polarized public opinion. Each photograph is identified to have a set of physical and semantic features. The three selected features were presence of police, gender and close-up (vs.long-shot) in the frame. The intensity on a range of emotions (fear, disgust, anger, sadness, optimism, pessimism, surprise, shock, happiness, and respect) experienced by the viewer for each feature was collected. By statistical and dimensionality analyses, we isolate and identify influencing factors in an image. We found that the presence of police in aggressive actions and close-up shots of had the highest variation in the emotional responses of participants. Interestingly, the gender of the protesters did not show statistically significant effects. The findings from the exploratory investigation highlights the powerful role photographic features have on emotional responses of people, an understudied but critical factor in a world immersed in social media.

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