Grief Iconography between Italians and Americans: A Comparative Study on How Mourning Is Visually Expressed on Social Media

Behav Sci (Basel). 2021 Jul 20;11(7):104. doi: 10.3390/bs11070104.


As an innovative way to express grief, social media posts about the deceased have become fairly common. However, few studies have examined commonly posted grief photos. The purpose of the present study was to examine such pictures, as well as the motivations and reactions of those who posted them, among Italians and Americans. Surveys were sent to both Italian and US participants. The US group yielded 262 responses (mean age = 22 years; 81% female), and the Italian group yielded 51 (mean age = 32 years; 82% female). Several key issues emerged, such as the need for social media users to receive empathic support from other users, the desire to maintain continuing bonds, the wish to remember the deceased, and the desire to share beauty and symbolic pictures. The images were analyzed using content analysis. Both samples posted photos to remember, and to enhance their posts. A strong preference for pictures with a positive emotional connotation appeared, depicting the deceased in a conjoint appearance with the participant. The results suggest that the imagery used for the expression of grief in social media sites, an "iconography of grief", is a popular means of expression for grievers across the two cultures.

Keywords: comparative study; death; grief; internet; photograph; social network sites.