Check out people’s identities to plan your scicomm more effectively
By Michelle Riedlinger
The ideas people have about themselves and the groups they identify with can affect the success of science communication strategies, according to scholars presenting at the recent ASC conference.
People’s identity, say social psychologists, is determined to a large extent by the groups they feel they belong to, which can be based on age, political beliefs or where people live.
For example, research examining 500,000 social media messages about space science found that social media users were more likely to trust those who posted messages online if they had a similar online profile to them.
The presenter, Yi-Ling Hwong, from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW, said she recognised that this poses significant challenges for scientists, who are likely to have a different social media profile to those they want to communicate with.
But, she said scientists can have a significant impact on how their communication is received if they carefully consider how they present themselves online. For example, by highlighting other aspects of their identity in addition to their scientific identity.
Another presenter at the conference, Matt Nurse from the Centre for Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at ANU built on the ground breaking work conducted by Dan Kahan and others on motivated numeracy. Matt wanted to see if he could get even the smartest people among his research subjects to disagree about cold, hard, numerical facts.
In a randomised controlled experiment, Matt found that highly numerically-literate One Nation supporters were less likely to interpret CO2 data in the same way that climate scientists would interpret the data. One Nation supporters downplayed the positive impacts of industry regulation associated with reducing climate change.
Matt also found that when the information was flipped, numerically-literate Greens supporters didn’t do much better at interpreting numerical data correctly.
On climate change, Matt says, if you need to persuade people with a right-leaning identity, don’t tell them that they don’t understand the science of climate change. Tell them success stories of businesses that install solar panels–and how this can reduce electricity prices for consumers.
Anna Attard from the University of New South Wales found that people living in different coastal areas of New South Wales (e.g. Byron Bay compared to Port Macquarie) had strong associations with their own particular place and interest groups. This meant they assessed the future rate and impacts of sea level rise very differently and had vastly different communication needs.
Anna is developing an online resource pack targeting various types of end users to help them develop their own group-based solutions to address coastal erosion.
Researchers know that focussing communication strategies on science-based messages alone can increase public polarisation on controversial issues such as climate change, so making science communicators aware of this important area of social research is needed now more than ever.
Know your identity. Image: Pixabay