Natalie Cross, Dr. Nik Sawe, Dr. Tierney Thys, Dr. Brian Knutson
With over 145 million followers, National Geographic’s Instagram page is one of the most popular pages on Instagram. This study analyzed a set of 890 photographs posted on National Geographic’s Instagram page over a 3-month time period in order to answer the question, which elements lead to an impactful nature photograph? For the purposes of this report, impact is measured by two variables: (1) engagement and (2) positive vs. negative emotional arousal. Engagement refers to the interaction that Instagram viewers had with the photographs and was measured by finding the proportion between the total number of likes and comments on each photograph and the account’s total number of followers at the time of measurement. Arousal refers to the strength of emotion felt when viewing each photograph, with a high positive arousal (PA) correlated with strong positive emotion and a high negative arousal (NA) correlated with strong negative emotion. PA and NA were calculated using valence (positive vs. negative emotion) and arousal (strength of emotion) ratings made by research assistants for each image. Using Pearson’s correlation coefficient, we found that there is a positive correlation between both engagement and PA and the presence of nature and animals in a photograph and a negative correlation between both engagement and PA and photographs containing humans and/or urban settings. There was no strong correlation between NA and the presence of nature/animals vs urban/humans. In addition, engagement was also correlated with the biome region depicted in the photograph; mountain and ocean biomes were positively correlated with engagement while the desert biome was not correlated with engagement. There was not a strong correlation between PA and different biomes. Interestingly, there was a strong correlation between NA and photographs taken in ocean biomes and/or underwater, however mountain and desert biomes did not share this high level of NA. Lastly, there was also a positive correlation between both NA and engagement and the presence of predators/threats in a photograph. The correlations described above are all statistically significant with a p value > 0.001. The results outlined in this study are a preliminary portion of a much larger project. The next stage of the project will be to collect external data through a nationally representative survey. This survey will ask participants about how these images influence not only their engagement and emotional response (both in terms of valence and arousal and discrete emotions), but also their hypothetical willingness to donate to protect the species/region depicted in each image, and perceptions of depicted species (e.g., endangered status, familiarity). After this survey is conducted within the United States, we plan to expand it to both India and Indonesia in order to see if cultural differences have an influence on the impact of nature imagery.