Picture this: emotional and political responses to photographs of the Kenneth Bigley kidnapping


  • Aarti Iyer and Julian Oldmeadow, School of Psychology, University of Exeter.


The use of photographs to augment media reports of kidnapping victims in Iraq has sparked debates over the effects of such images on the public and, ultimately, the politics surrounding the event. We considered the effects of such images in a sample of British university students during the 2004 kidnapping of British citizen Kenneth Bigley. Drawing on emotions theory, we examined the effects of graphic images on emotional reactions and attitudes towards negotiations. Half of the participants were exposed to photographs of the victim that had recently been published in a national newspaper. The other half were not shown any images. As predicted, the photographs increased fear reactions amongst participants compared to no photograph controls. Fear and sympathy, but not anger, predicted attitudes towards negotiation. The photographs used in this study thus indirectly increased participants' support for negotiating with and submitting to the demands of the captors. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.