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Visualising Viruses

How the SARS-CoV-2 virus is depicted affects how we feel about it

29 September 2021

Visualising Viruses

Two years ago, nobody had heard of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Today, it’s probably the most famous virus in the world thanks to its starring role in the COVID-19 pandemic. It's not just the name that’s become familiar: most news and TV stories feature a picture of the virus, often as a highly stylised, coloured computer graphic. New research shows that the way that the virus is depicted in the media affects how people feel about it, with beautiful, coloured graphics tending to make people perceive the virus as being less real and contagious than black and white photos or scientific models like the ones in this image. In turn, this could affect how seriously people take the need to change their behaviour, such as wearing a mask, social distancing or getting vaccinated. It’s a timely reminder that pictures are as important as words when communicating health information to the public.

Written by Kat Arney

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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