First-round Finalists for the 2018 Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications

We had an incredibly exciting and impressive group of submissions for the 2018 frank Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications, sponsored by the Joy McCann Foundation.  We have to say, this was probably the hardest year we have had making the cut for the first round. Thank you to everyone who submitted their work. We wish we could bring all of the great scholars who participated to frank 2018.

From the list below, a review board of scholars and practitioners will evaluate the articles based on academic and methodological rigor and applicability. Learn more about our criteria here. From this group, the board will select three papers that will be shared at frank 2018 and frank (scholar). We will announce the final three finalists in early January.

Delineating CSR and social change: Querying corporations as actors for social good
Authors:   Lucinda AustinBarbara Miller Gaither, MaryClaire Schulz
Affiliation:   University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Disciples:   Communications, Public Relations
Journal:   Public Relations Inquiry (in press now)

This paper explores the relationship between corporate social responsibility and social change and asks the important question of if and how corporations may serve as agents of social change.  Based on this exploration, the paper advances a descriptive model of business-society relationships and their capacity for creating and promoting social change. The conceptual model also identifies the ethical motivations driving the business initiatives—from removing harms caused and/or associated with the business or its products to conferring benefits for the good of society.

A case evaluation of Coca-Cola’s “3Ws” social initiatives—related to well-being, water, and women’s empowerment—is then used to highlight and contextualize the model.  Research on Coca-Cola’s three-pronged sustainability commitment provides a unique opportunity to highlight aspects of the conceptual model through the lens of a single corporation.  These 3Ws, all of which involve social causes of generalizable interest, demonstrate distinctions between CSR and social change initiatives, as well as the fundamental role of stakeholder engagement in a corporation’s capacity to serve as an agent of social change.

Our conceptual model suggests corporations with the greatest capacity for social change will be those that: 1) focus most on conferring benefits to society, rather than removing organizational harms, 2) work towards creating social value as a key driver of business, rather than profits, 3) focus on an area of generalizable interest to larger society, and 4) demonstrate genuine, authentic engagement with stakeholders and the public. Companies that do all of these things and do them well have a higher capacity for creating social change through corporate communication initiatives. The paper concludes with important implications for corporations seeking to extend beyond CSR into true efforts toward social change.


Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing
Authors:  Dan KahanAsheley Landrum, Katie Carpenter, Laura Helft, Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Affiliation:   Yale Law School, Yale University
Disciples:   Psychology
Journal:   Advances in Political Psychology

This article describes evidence suggesting that science curiosity counteracts politically biased information processing. This finding is in tension with two bodies of research. The first casts doubt on the existence of “curiosity” as a measurable disposition. The other suggests that individual differences in cognition related to science comprehension—of which science curiosity, if it exists, would presumably be one—do not mitigate politically biased information processing but instead aggravate it. The article describes the scale-development strategy employed to overcome the problems associated with measuring science curiosity. It also reports data, observational and experimental, showing that science curiosity promotes open-minded engagement with information that is contrary to individuals’ political predispositions. We conclude by identifying a series of concrete research questions posed by these results.


Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-government
Authors: Dan Kahan, Ellen Peters, Erica., Dawson  & Paul Slovic
Disciples:  Psychology, Communications, Political Science
Journal:   Behavioural Public Policy

Why does public conflict over societal risks persist in the face of compelling and widely accessible scientific evidence? We conducted an experiment to probe two alternative answers: the ‘science comprehension thesis’ (SCT), which identifies defects in the public’s knowledge and reasoning capacities as the source of such controversies; and the ‘identity-protective cognition thesis’ (ICT), which treats cultural conflict as disabling the faculties that members of the public use to make sense of decision-relevant science. In our experiment, we presented subjects with a difficult problem that turned on their ability to draw valid causal inferences from empirical data. As expected, subjects highest in numeracy – a measure of the ability and disposition to make use of quantitative information – did substantially better than less numerate ones when the data were presented as results from a study of a new skin rash treatment. Also as expected, subjects’ responses became politically polarized – and even less accurate – when the same data were presented as results from the study of a gun control ban. But contrary to the prediction of SCT, such polarization did not abate among subjects highest in numeracy; instead, it increased. This outcome supported ICT, which predicted that more numerate subjects would use their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks. We discuss the theoretical and practical significance of these findings.


Liberals and Conservatives are Similarly Motivated to Avoid Exposure to One Another’s Opinions
Authors:   Matt MotylJeremy Frimer, Linda Skitka
Affiliation:   University of Illinois at Chicago
Disciples:   Psychology, Political Science
Journal:   Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Political hostility and polarization has escalated to unprecedented heights in recent years, where people seem unwilling to communicate with others who disagree with their politics. We tested why people resist communicating with people outside their own political bubble. Although some previous research has found that political conservatives may be more prone to selective exposure than liberals are, we find similar selective exposure motives on the political left and right across a variety of issues. The majority of people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate willingly gave up a chance to win money to avoid hearing from the other side (Study 1). When thinking back to the 2012 U.S. Presidential election (Study 2), ahead to upcoming elections in the U.S. and Canada (Study 3), and about a range of other Culture War issues (Study 4), liberals and conservatives reported similar aversion toward learning about the views of their ideological opponents. Their lack of interest was not due to already being informed about the other side or attributable election fatigue. Rather, people on both sides indicated that they anticipated that hearing from the other side would induce cognitive dissonance (e.g., require effort, cause frustration) and undermine a sense of shared reality with the person expressing disparate views (e.g., damage the relationship; Study 5). A high-powered meta-analysis of our data sets (N = 2417) did not detect a difference in the intensity of liberals’ (d = 0.63) and conservatives’ (d = 0.58) desires to remain in their respective ideological bubbles. These findings help us better understand the motivations behind why people avoid communicating with people who hold conflicting political views, and thus, lay the groundwork for addressing those motivations to promote more dialogue across the political spectrum.


Beyond the Roots of Human Inaction: Fostering collective effort toward ecosystem conservation
Authors:  Elise Amel, Christie Manning, Britain Scott, Susan Koger
Affiliation:   University of St. Thomas
Disciples:   Psychology:
Journal:   Science

The term “environmental problem” exposes a fundamental misconception: Disruptions of Earth’s ecosystems are at their root a human behavior problem. Changing human behavior patterns, however, is complex and challenging. This paper reviews the psychological research on some of the most important barriers, some intuitive and others not, to behaving in synchrony with the ecological systems upon which we depend. Understanding these barriers can lead to data-driven communication campaigns to empower individual behavior change. Even when individuals do change their behaviors, however, the impact is limited if the changes focus on private sphere behaviors (e.g., household recycling, energy use, gardening). In contrast, whole systems (businesses, communities, places of worship, schools) can be radically altered when individuals aim their actions toward more public, organization-level activities such as altering processes and policies, and influencing others to modify their behavior. Psychological research suggests that humans can move toward a sustainable society by creating conditions that motivate environmentally responsible collective action—conditions that help people surmount cognitive limits, create new situational drivers, foster need fulfillment, and support communities of social change. Thus, public interest communications could magnify the effects of individual behavior change by focusing on systems-level, public behaviors that are challenging yet essential for a sustainable future.


Moral Outrage in the Digital Age
Author: M.J. Crockett
Affiliation:   Yale University
Disciples:   Psychology, Neuroscience
Journal:   Nature Human Behaviour

Humans reliably express moral outrage in response to perceived injustice. Shaming and punishing others for wrongdoing can deter future harms and promote cooperation, but can also exacerbate social divides and escalate into cycles of retaliation. Moral outrage evolved in the context of small foraging groups, and existing theories of outrage are designed to explain its function in this environment. But social environments are rapidly changing in the face of new technologies, and moral outrage is now widely expressed in massive online social networks. Here I provide a new theoretical framework for understanding how digital technologies might alter the nature of moral outrage. Within this framework, moral outrage is triggered by perceived moral norm violations. The experience of outrage motivates the expression of behavioral responses such as gossip, shaming or punishment. Expressing outrage can lead to costs and benefits for oneself and for society at large. I present a hypothesis that digital media may promote the expression of moral outrage by magnifying its triggers, reducing its personal costs and amplifying its personal benefits. At the same time, online social networks may diminish the social benefits of outrage by reducing the likelihood that norm-enforcing messages reach their targets. Data from a study of moral behavior in everyday life provides initial support for this hypothesis, showing that people are more likely to learn about immoral acts online than in person or through traditional media (TV/radio/print). In addition, people express more outrage in response to immoral acts encountered online than in person or through traditional media. This preliminary evidence suggests that, contrary to the claims of technology companies, digital products may be fundamentally changing an important aspect of human social behavior. This is an empirical question that is imperative to address, because its answer has ethical and regulatory implications.


Movin’ on Up? How Perceptions of Social Mobility Affect Our Willingness to Defend the System
Authors:  Martin V. Day, Susan T. Fiske
Affiliation:   Day (Memorial University of Newfoundland); Fiske (Princeton University)
Disciples:   Psychology
Journal:   Social Psychological and Personality Science

A major reason why societal change can be difficult is because people are sometimes motivated to justify and strongly defend the status quo. Although previously untested, it has been proposed that people’s tolerance and support for unequal societal conditions may hinge upon their perceptions of opportunity (Kluegel & Smith, 1986). In general, opportunity involves people’s beliefs about social mobility, that is, the chances to move up or down in society. In this research we tested whether people’s beliefs about social mobility could affect their broad defense of American society. We used real information on social mobility in America, but framed it so that it either conveyed a sense of low social mobility (e.g., only 5% of people from the bottom make it to the top) or moderate social mobility (e.g., many people are able to move to a social class higher than their parents). Across three studies we found that low (vs. moderate) social mobility frames decreased people’s willingness to defend the American system as fair, just, and legitimate. In other words, people were more likely to go along with the status quo when they thought that social mobility was good, and they were less likely to do so when they thought people had poor chances to change their social class. This effect appeared to be widespread. For example, this pattern occurred for political liberals, moderates, and conservatives, suggesting that the impact of social mobility beliefs transcends political groups. As people tend to overestimate social mobility (Kraus, 2015), our research sheds some light on what may happen when people are faced with the reality of current social mobility. Overall, this new research insight may be particularly useful for communication campaigns that aim to reduce people’s tendency to rationalize and maintain the status quo, thereby providing greater possibility of societal change.


Unblurring the Lines of Sexual Consent with a  College Student-Driven Sexual Consent Education Campaign
Authors:  Rebecca Ortiz, Autumn Shafer
Affiliation:   Syracuse University
Disciples:   Communications, Marketing/Advertising, Public Relations
Journal: Journal of American College Health

An estimated one in five female and one in twenty male undergraduate students at colleges and universities in the United States experience sexual assault while enrolled. Sexual assault is broadly defined as any sexual encounter absent of affirmative consent given or obtained by a sexual partner; however, many college students report misunderstandings about or discomfort with engaging in affirmative sexual consent. The purpose of the current study was thus to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a student-driven sexual consent education campaign using relevant peer-to-peer and mediated messaging. The campaign’s development and evaluation was guided by the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPM), such that focus was on improving students’ attitudes about and behavioral intentions to engage in sexual consent communication. Participants included undergraduate students (N=992) at a large, public southwestern university. Three online survey questionnaires assessing relevant outcome measures were distributed to the university’s undergraduate student population before, during, and after the campaign’s implementation over two consecutive academic semesters. Campaign recall and sexual consent understanding, beliefs, and intentions significantly improved over the course of the campaign. College men and members of university-affiliated social sororities or fraternities resulted in the greatest improvement when compared to their respective counterparts (i.e., college women, non-members). Results indicated that these type of campaigns have the opportunity to reach historically hard-to-reach audiences, such as college men, who must be as much a part of the conversations and educational efforts on college campuses to reduce sexual assault incidence as college women. Implications include that for sexual consent communications efforts to have a social impact on college students, they should include messaging that addresses the relevant concerns and needs of all their students, avoids alienating or stigmatizing certain audiences, and encourages assertive, verbal communication.


Healthier Than Thou? “Practicing What You Preach” Backfires by Increasing Anticipated Devaluation
Authors: Lauren Howe, Benoît Monin
Affiliation:   Stanford University
Disciples:   Psychology
Journal:   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Should experts always practice what they preach? When an expert displays exemplary behavior, individuals who fear negative devaluation sometimes anticipate that this expert will look down on them. As a result, displays of excellence can paradoxically turn off the very people they are trying to inspire. Five studies document this in the medical domain, showing that individuals who are overweight or obese and concerned about their weight avoid physicians who advertise their fitness, for fear that these doctors will judge them negatively. People (erroneously) believe that doctors have healthier habits than other individuals (Study 1), doctors advertise healthy habits (Study 2), and overweight individuals anticipate devaluation from, and thus avoid and feel less comfortable with, doctors who portray themselves as fitness-focused (Study 3). Studies 4 and 5 test strategies for physicians to emphasize their own fitness without turning off weight-sensitive patients. This work demonstrates that it is critical to take into account ego-defensive processes when attempting to lead by example.


The framing of women and health disparities: A critical look at race, gender, and class from the perspectives of grassroots health communicators
Author: Jennifer Vardeman-Winter
Affiliation:  University of Houston
Disciples:  Communications, Public Relations
Journal:   Health Communication

Background and RQ: Women’s health has received significant political and media attention recently, particularly as women of color continue to experience the highest morbidity and mortality rates across many health risks. To address how organizational communication may be contributing to these persistent health disparities, I explored how organizations develop messaging to women about health and how communicators negotiate racial and class differences between themselves and their audiences. Women’s health communication (particularly communication that includes media campaigns) and critical race and systemic racism research framed this study. The research question guiding data collection and analysis was, how do grassroots communicators perceive working with women experiencing health disparities?

Method and Sample: I interviewed 15 communicators, community health workers, and executive directors (14 women, one man; 13 White, two African American) from grassroots organizations focused on women’s health to learn of their challenges in communicating with women from communities experiencing health disparities.

Findings and Implications: Findings suggest that communicators face difficulties in developing meaningful messaging for publics because of disjunctures between medical and community frames, issues in seeking healthcare among women’s many priorities, Whiteness discourses imposed on publics’ experiences, and practices of correcting for power differentials. A structural theory of women’s health communication, then, consists of tenets around geographic, research/funding, academic/industry, and social hierarchies. Six frames suggesting racial biases about women and health disparities labeled women as (a) non-compliant with medical advice; (b) unmotivated to improve their health; (c) invisible to authorities; (d) buried in hardship; (e) opaque about their health needs, motivations, and histories; and (f) victims of a bad health system.  I also proposed that a “second generation” of culture-based health communicators have emerged who are cognizant of their privilege in the reality of health disparities. This study includes practical solutions in education, publishing, and policy change for addressing structural challenges.


Defensive Responding to IAT FeedbackAdditional
Authors: Jennifer Howell,  Liz Redford, Kate Ratliff, Gabrielle Pogge
Affiliation:   University of California, Merced
Disciples:   Psychology, Public Health
Journal:   Social Cognition

Although most Americans value equality, discrimination still occurs in important contexts including education, employment, and medical treatment. As a result, some organizations require bias and discrimination education. Learning about implicit bias—biases that people are either unaware of or unwilling to admit—has become increasingly prominent in such communications. Unfortunately, little is known about whether teaching people about their own implicit attitudes cues a desire to reduce one’s potential to discriminate (e.g., by reducing behaviors that may lead to unintentional discrimination).

In three studies we examined whether people who learn they are biased via an IAT (Implicit Association Test—one measure of implicit bias; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwarz, 1998) respond defensively to that feedback. In an archival data set (Study 1, N = 219,426) and in an online experiment (Study 2, N = 1,225), people responded most defensively to feedback when: (a) their implicit and self-reported bias was more discrepant, (b) their implicit bias aligned more with societal bias than did their self-reported attitudes (e.g., a preference for Straight People relative to Gay People), and (c) they were majority group members (e.g., White participants in a race-relevant task). Next, in an online experiment (Study 3, N = 418), we demonstrated that receiving feedback indicating that one is biased causes greater defensiveness. In turn, greater defensiveness predicted lower intentions to engage in egalitarian behavior.

These findings provide an important caveat for interventions using implicit bias feedback: the people who may benefit most from awareness of their own implicit attitudes (e.g., majority group members; those whose implicit bias aligns more with societal prejudice than does their self-reported bias) also respond most defensively to feedback. As such, social change communications using implicit bias feedback should also build in efforts to disrupt these defensive responses.


Identity Concealment and Social Change: Balancing Advocacy Goals Against Individual Needs
Authors:  Michael H. Pasek, Gabrielle Filip-Crawford, Jonathan E. Cook
Affiliation:  The Pennsylvania State University
Disciples:  Psychology
Journal:  Journal of Social Issues

We consider the conflicting multilevel forces around concealment and disclosure that may weigh on individuals as they navigate life with a concealable stigmatized identity. In particular, we explore a tension that can arise between immediate personal motivations to conceal and the potential for disclosure to increase the visibility of a stigmatized group and normalize it, thus helping to change social attitudes and reduce structural stigma. We argue that personal benefits of disclosure are moderated by individual differences and situational characteristics. This suggests that a one-size-fits-all approach that focuses exclusively or primarily on the benefits of disclosure can be problematic. We thus recommend that any intervention campaign that seeks to encourage disclosure should balance social advocacy goals with individual needs. We conclude with a discussion of possible intervention strategies that could be used to (1) help individuals manage the disclosure process and (2) help create more favorable organizational and civic climates where concealment is less necessary.


The Unifying Moral Dyad: Liberals and Conservatives Share the Same Harm-Based Moral Template
Authors:  Kurt Gray, Chelsea Schein
Affiliation:   University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Disciples:   Psychology
Journal:   Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Do moral disagreements regarding specific issues (e.g., patriotism, chastity) reflect deep cognitive differences (i.e., distinct cognitive mechanisms) between liberals and conservatives? Dyadic morality suggests that the answer is “no.” Despite moral diversity, we reveal that moral cognition—in both liberals and conservatives—is rooted in a harm-based template. A dyadic template suggests that harm should be central within moral cognition, an idea tested—and confirmed—through six specific hypotheses. Studies suggest that moral judgment occurs via dyadic comparison, in which counter-normative acts are compared with a prototype of harm. Dyadic comparison explains why harm is the most accessible and important of moral content, why harm organizes—and overlaps with—diverse moral content, and why harm best translates across moral content. Dyadic morality suggests that various moral content (e.g., loyalty, purity) are varieties of perceived harm and that past research has substantially exaggerated moral differences between liberals and conservatives.


Changing Climates of Conflict
Authors:  Elizabeth Levy Paluck, Hana Shepherd, Peter Aronow
Affiliation:   Princeton University
Disciples:   Sociology, Psychology, Political Science
Journal:   Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Theories of human behavior suggest that individuals attend to the behavior of certain people in their community to understand what is socially normative and adjust their own behavior in response. An experiment tested these theories by randomizing an anticonflict intervention across 56 schools with 24,191 students. After comprehensively measuring every school’s social network, randomly selected seed groups of 20–32 students from randomly selected schools were assigned to an intervention that encouraged their public stance against conflict at school. Compared with control schools, disciplinary reports of student conflict at treatment schools were reduced by 30% over 1 year. The effect was stronger when the seed group contained more “social referent” students who, as network measures reveal, attract more student attention. Network analyses of peer-to-peer influence show that social referents spread perceptions of conflict as less socially normative.


The Effect of a Supreme Court Decision Regarding Gay Marriage on Social Norms and Personal Attitudes
Authors:  Margaret Tankard, Elizabeth Levy Paluck
Affiliation:   RAND
Disciples:   Psychology
Journal:   Psychological Science

We propose that institutions such as the U.S. Supreme Court can lead individuals to update their perceptions of social norms, in contrast to the mixed evidence on whether institutions shape individuals’ personal opinions. We studied reactions to the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. In a controlled experimental setting, we found that a favorable ruling, when presented as likely, shifted perceived norms and personal attitudes toward increased support for gay marriage and gay people. Next, a five-wave longitudinal time-series study using a sample of 1,063 people found an increase in perceived social norms supporting gay marriage after the ruling but no change in personal attitudes. This pattern was replicated in a separate between-subjects data set. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that an institutional decision can change perceptions of social norms, which have been shown to guide behavior, even when individual opinions are unchanged.


The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions: Understanding False and Unsupported Beliefs about Politics
Authors:  D.J. Flynn, Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler
Affiliation:   Dartmouth College
Disciples:   Psychology, Communications, Political Science
Journal:   Advances in Political Psychology

Political misperceptions distort public debate and undermine efforts to respond to pressing crises such as climate change and disease epidemics. In recent years, a growing number of studies have shown that attempts to correct misperceptions by providing corrective information often fail or backfire. Surveying research from political science, psychology, and communications, we argue that the key to identifying effective strategies for combating misperceptions is understanding the psychological process that leads people to form and and maintain false or unsupported beliefs. Specifically, we argue that most political misperceptions are rooted in directionally motivated reasoning, which causes people to seek out and interpret information in light of their prior attitudes. We identify individual and contextual factors known to affect the prevalence of directionally motivated reasoning, including partisan polarization, social networks, media sources, issue salience, political knowledge, and ambivalence. Most importantly, these factors help us identify the approaches that are most likely to be reduce misperceptions.  This article improves our understanding of the psychological origins of misperceptions and thus makes communicators better equipped to respond effectively to misperceptions on a host of pressing issues.


Storytelling and evidence-based policy: Lessons from the grey literature
Author: Brett Davidson
Affiliation:   Open Society Foundations Public Health Program
Disciples:   Communications, Political Science, Public Health
Journal:   Palgrave Communications

A number of authors interested in how to translate evidence into policy identify the importance of policy narrative and argue that advocates of scientific evidence need to tell good stories to grab the attention and appeal to the emotions of policymakers. Yet, this general call for better narratives is incomplete without concrete examples and evidence of their effectiveness. This article shows how these processes are described in the ‘grey’ literature — defined as literature which is produced by all levels of government, academics, business and industry, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers. This literature is often missed by scientists but more important to activists and advocates within social movements and the non-profit sector who frequently engage with or seek to influence policymakers. The paper outlines some of the ways in which an understanding of policymaker psychology and factors such as group dynamics and political context are reflected in the grey literature, and the implications of this for understanding the role of storytelling in political advocacy. It highlights practical advice about storytelling that emerges from the literature, and presents four case studies illustrating aspects of storytelling in action. It concludes by identifying the implications for scientists and other advocates of ‘evidence informed policymaking’, practitioners, and policymakers.


Activist Strategic Communication for Social Change: A Transnational Case Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Activism
Author: Erica L. Ciszek
Affiliation:   University of Houston
Disciples:   Communications, Public Relations
Journal:   Journal of Communication

Drawing from critical public relations research and communication for development and social change, this article argues activism is a form of cultural intermediation that often engages in strategic communication for social change. This study explores how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists engage in public relations, operating as cultural intermediaries (Bourdieu, 1984) to make, remake, subvert, communicate, and circulate cultural identities, representations, and imaginations by way of strategic communication for social change. Over a 4-year period (2012–2016), multiple sources of data were used in this study including digital texts (websites, blogs, social media content, articles) as well interviews with 40 activists representing 15 countries.

This research sheds light on activism as a form of cultural intermediation, positioning activists as strategic agents for global social change. Rather than emphasizing outcomes or effects, the focus of this study is an examination of how activists come to describe, explain, and account for the world in which they live and the processes through which activists bring about and contribute to shared understandings. Through symbolic work, activists, like public relations practitioners, have the potential to challenge and redefine cultural discourses, employing strategic communication for social change. These efforts work to influence public opinion and policy about issues impacting the lives of sexual and gender minorities around the world. This research takes a transnational approach to strategic communication for social change, requiring attention to the flows of people, goods, and knowledge and how this produces relationships and linkages between and among disparate people and places. This transnational research points to social change that has been made possible through global connectivity and digital communication.


Public Understanding of Science: Policy and Educational Implications
Authors:  Gale M. Sinatra, Barbara K. Hofer
Affiliation:   University of Southern California
Disciples:   Psychology, Communications, Other: Public Understanding of Science
Journal:  Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

The need for public understanding of science is especially critical in today’s society when citizens frequently confront complex, conflicting information on challenging topics. This article presents research on challenges for public understanding of science: In addition to increased scientific literacy (knowledge), people may need to shift epistemic cognition (beliefs about the nature of knowledge) and epistemic trust (beliefs about source credibility) to accept scientific perspectives. The article suggests how educators, media specialists, and scientists who communicate about their work might help address these challenges. Educational implications include (a) teach scientific processes, (b) teach for deeper understanding, (c) promote epistemic cognition, and (d) use instructional scaffolds. Policy recommendations include (a) fund educational research on thinking, (b) emphasize how to think over what to think, (c) support malleable psychological skills and dispositions, (d) avoid presenting “balanced perspectives” when there is scientific consensus, and (e) demand more rigorous teacher preparation standards. All these develop an informed citizenry.


Storytelling for Social Change: Leveraging Documentary and Comedy for Public Engagement in Global Poverty
Authors:  Caty Borum Chattoo, Lauren Feldman
Affiliation:   Center for Media & Social Impact, American University School of Communication
Disciples:   Communications:
Journal:   Journal of Communication

Narrative is essential for public engagement with global poverty. “Stand Up Planet,” a documentary about global development starring Hasan Minhaj (“The Daily Show”), was produced to evaluate the effects of a little-utilized nonfiction comedy narrative. Using a pretest–posttest experimental design, this study examines shifts in U.S. audience engagement with global poverty after watching “Stand Up Planet,” compared with a somber documentary about the same topics, “The End Game.” Both documentaries increased awareness of global poverty, support for government aid, knowledge, and intended actions. However, “Stand Up Planet” produced significantly larger gains in awareness, knowledge, and actions; these effects were mediated by the narrative’s relatability, positive emotions, and entertainment value. The effects of “The End Game” were mediated by narrative transportation and negative emotions. Implications for narrative in social change communication and advocacy campaigns are discussed.




Posted: December 21, 2017
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