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Abstract

Photography mediates our experience of the world, especially in a culture powered by images at an unprecedented level. Social media, alternative facts, debates about post-truth and fake news make our negotiation between what is real or fake challenging. Beyond or perhaps before our cognitive judgments about images, we respond and relate to visual culture in visceral, embodied ways.  We ran a series of experiments to understand how our visceral responses, as the basis of subjective feelings, influence our relation and response to photojournalistic images. First, participants saw a series of photojournalistic images, while we measured their neurophysiological (heartrate acceleration and heartbeat-evoked potentials) and affective arousal. Next, they were informed they would see the same images again and judge whether the images were real (i.e. photos capturing an event as it happened depicting genuine emotions) or fake. Thereby we were able to assess the relation between levels of neurophysiological and affective arousal and the participants’ cognitive judgements of realness. Our findings over several experiments highlight the crucial role that ‘feeling in seeing’ plays as in determining our beliefs about realness in a political culture powered by images. The multidisciplinary approach that we propose compliments the visual turn in global politics and the emotional turn in history as we are trying to figure out who we are when we look at and being moved by images.