In 2018 the Center For Naval Analysis (CNA) published government funded research on how to use Memes to influence public opinion. It’s a surprisingly insightful and easy to read guide on how to conduct “Meme Warfare (PDF )“.
I know what you’re thinking, memes are just funny pictures with short messages, there’s no need for a research paper explaining them. That’s where you’re wrong, here’s a quote from the section on “Why Visual Memes are Useful Tools for Influence” on page 12:
Across the fields of psychology, behavioral sciences, philosophy, and marketing, the literature agrees that images offer some advantages over text. These advantages— particularly those with respect to brevity and stickiness—make visual memes especially well-suited for influence campaigns. One advantage that memes have in influence campaigns is that they consist of perceptual information. In other words, they communicate information beyond the composition of the image itself. This intuited, or connotatively conveyed, information means that images take less time to consume than text and allow us to communicate complex concepts quickly.
Further, advertising, marketing, and psychological research suggest that visual cues take advantage of heuristics, which enable our brains to retrieve information related to images more quickly than information related to text. Indeed, neurocognitive research confirms that the human brain is predominately an image processor whose sensory cortex is far larger than its word processing centers.15 This reliance on heuristics is particularly acute for information presented online: technology increases reliance on heuristics, which reduces the likelihood that consumers will think deeply.16 As a result, a rational discussion of an issue (e.g., an article exploring corruption in the upper tiers of the Islamic State) will be less effective than a visual campaign (e.g., a memetic engagement discrediting the group).