What is it about?

Drawing from research, we develop a model to explain how the visual/verbal structure, meaning construction, and content of a multimodal message can make use of cultural resources in ways that are likely to evoke emotion. Summarized as a research question, we ask: how do certain combinations of multimodal messages (words and images) more forcefully evoke emotion and capture recipients’ attention, motivate them to process those messages, and (re)evaluate the legitimacy of an organization, its activities, and/or its industry. We conclude by discussing extensions and connections.

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Why is it important?

Obviously, words evoke emotion; however, significant research shows that images more powerfully trigger emotion. Images communicate instantaneously on an emotional and a cognitive level and may evoke intense emotions as viewers feel attracted to or repelled by the subject. Images can also increase or decrease viewer arousal levels: those that increase arousal are noticed faster, viewed longer, and arrest individuals’ attention more efficiently. This research suggests that multimodal messages that incorporate images with words can be more persuasive.


We are swimming in a sea of words and images designed to legitimate or delegitimate, yet organizational theorists have limited tools available to analyze such multimodal texts. To begin to address this gap, we have developed a process model to describe how multimodal messages evoke emotion to persuade message recipients of the (il)legitimacy of an organization and its practices and, perhaps, motivate re-evaluation of the organization’s legitimacy. In doing so, we connect and extend existing theory in two important ways. We leverage research on multimodality to examine how such messages motivate cognitive and emotional processing to present the sponsors’ critique or support of an organization or industry’s legitimacy. And we extend the model to explain the conditions under which individuals will accept, reject or rethink the stance presented in the message. We hope that this model will better equip researchers to understand how multimodal messages ‘work’ within organizations, within industries and fields, and within society as sponsors vie for definitional authority.

Lianne Lefsrud
University of Alberta

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: “Giant Toxic Lakes You Can See from Space” A Theory of Multimodal Messages and Emotion in Legitimacy Work, Organization Studies, April 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0170840619835575.
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