How the media makes men look more powerful

I read some research today that I found fascinating. A group of European researchers have found that the media can influence how readers interpret the amount of power held by somebody, purely through the angle they use to shoot the photo.

Pictures shot from below are seen to represent powerful people, while those shot from above are seen to represent less powerful people. The media therefore can change how we feel about individuals with just a bit of clever photography. This might all sound a bit obvious, but what you might not think about so much is how this influences our perceptions of gender.

In their experiments, Dr Steffen R. Giessner, Associate Professor at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), and his colleagues found that there are more photographs of women in advertisements, newspapers and magazines shot from above than from below, while the opposite is true for men.

How does the media take photos of women?Looking down on the lovely Jennifer Aniston

All these camera angles therefore reinforce our perception that men are powerful and women are not, strengthening our stereotyped ideas that women cannot become leaders.

how photos make men look powerfulCowering in the shadow of the mighty Barack Obama

“Such simple associations of power and angle of shot do not take place in a social vacuum,” said Giessner. “Rather, context related to power (such as within organisations, or portraying the 100 most important people in the world) easily trigger our thinking about power. As a result we may consciously or unconsciously use cues to show the attribution of power in a picture.” He concludes: “While it is the job of researchers to uncover such effects, it is the job of the media to decide when to use and when not to use such subtle cues.”

So there you go.

Have a look for yourself – flick through a magazine or newspaper and notice the camera angles. Are there more women shot from above? Does a simple picture change the assumptions you make about people?

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6 Comments

  1. Vicky
    27 January, 2012 / 8:45 pm

    Hmmm maybe. But women in the public eye can be quite image conscious also and it’s widely known that it’s far more flattering to be photographed from above, and it doesn’t do much for most women when photographed from below. Coincidence?

  2. 27 January, 2012 / 8:54 pm

    I’m with Vicky – and Jennifer – here; given the choice I always prefer to be photographed from above. Of course, in certain lights you can hardly tell Jen and I apart…

  3. 28 January, 2012 / 12:59 am

    That was an especially interesting post. I never thought about it, but I believe you are correct. I’m going to start paying attention.

  4. 28 January, 2012 / 12:38 pm

    Really interesting reading. I think that old saying, “the camera never lies” is very much redundant these days.

  5. 30 January, 2012 / 6:39 am

    Interesting and being a director, I know how much shot angle, frame, size etc contributes to the reading of the shot.

    Have you read the famous British film theorist Laura Mulvey? Think you’d find what she has to say about Hollywood placing the male viewer as dominant interesting, always viewing women through their perspective. I’m hoping more female directors such as myself are changing that and the representation of women and now as time goes by, reflecting greater equality etc is reflected in film and the media too. Look at the shots and angles of Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady-she comes across powerful where appropriate plot wise and the camera is mostly handheld as she starts losing control as her dementia progresses.

  6. 30 January, 2012 / 8:52 pm

    I have never thought about this before, I shall look through my next magazine with avid interest, thank you :) x

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