I’ve been doing research on the emergence of visual content marketing as the next big thing that we’ll all be talking about. In the course of my reading, I came across this quote on a HubSpot blog: “90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.”

Wow! I was so excited about those facts that I shared them with my officemates.

Then started searching for the source. See, I’m the kind of person who prefers to quote the original source; on my Pinterest boards I tend to pin from the original page rather than just repining. I thought the original source might have more to offer, and the blog cited 3M Corporation and Zabisco as the sources. That’s when I discovered the problem.

Research, research, who’s got the research

Now, I consider myself a Jedi master of research thanks to 30 years as an academic and costume designer; finding obscure information is the norm. Want to know the color of starch in Elizabethan England? You’ll find it in The Complete Costume Dictionary. Need to know what Greeks used to pin their clothes together? They used safety pins called fibulae!

As I spent the next couple hours digging into websites. I used every variation I could to no avail. Instead, I came upon Alan Levine’s Cogdogblog post questioning this quote: “images are processed 60,000 times faster than text.” Levine found the original PDF and noted that it’s part of a sales brochure for 3M and offers no more research.

In a follow-up post, Levine even offered a reward to the first person who could find the source of the research. The result: crickets. Doug Vogel, the lead author on a 1986 research study by the University of Minnesota and 3M, responded that his PhD research might be related but was not the original source.

Reader, beware

So where does that leave us? Nowhere. A search on Google for the quote leads to 640 Stop Wrong Inforesults wherein it is repeated as a fact. If you search for just the first statistic – “90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual” – you get 3, 380,000 Google results. If you’re searching for “visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text,” you see 224,000 results.

State Farm appears to be right on target with their current commercial campaign about not trusting everything you read on the Internet.

The rest of us need to follow State Farm’s example. Visual content is important and not just because our brains are fast at processing it. But you shouldn’t take just my word for it. Check out what Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University has to say in a recent interview.

And remember, just because we see it in print or on the Web doesn’t make it true!

Kathleen Gossman – Project Manager

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