Mathew Mackie

Science: The humble cartoon a persuasive medium

Image: Bill Leak

The cartoon has been around for centuries, however its power has never been more potent. According to a study, the arithmetic remains simple. Want to change minds? Hire a cartoonist.




The first cartoon that changed my mind was a recent thing. I’d long moved from the dark period of angst into the settled boundaries of happy families, finally sharing a bed with the one I hope to share my life with. Nevertheless, when I clapped eyes on this, I pumped a fist in support. And while I’ll never truly understand the void, upon seeing this I was reminded that it will always be waiting for any of us again at one point.

That personal anecdote follows recent studies from the University of Illinois which found that the preferred visual medium is the humble cartoon. In the study, the subjects were shown two types of brochure, both of which looked to debunk a myth about wind energy, identical in form, except only one sported a cartoon. Professor Lulu Rodriguez, who headed up the study, stated that “people look at cartoons longer, so they’re more cognitively engaged with the cartoon. Usually it includes humour and people work hard at figuring out the punchline. The photos used to represent wind energy on the original brochures were just beautiful scenic shots of the turbine blades or a landscape dotted with turbines so people didn’t look at them as long.”

Strangely, those who responded to the cartoon brochure felt it held better content, despite it being identical to the non-cartoon edition, which is interesting, but borderline insane. The human brain is a maze of unreasonable impulse and logic. Front and centre to this, is the recently departed back catalogue of Bill Leak. His slices of the Australia that he saw immediately rose the pulse, voice and/or pride of those who supported or castigated him. As the old adage may state, a picture is worth a thousand words – though it seems the cartoon can raise the same number of shaken fists.


Related posts