Make it relevant? Engage emotionally?: Motivating publics in a science communication experience

Make it relevant? Engage emotionally?: Motivating publics in a science communication experience

Author: Graham Walker – CPAS, Australian National University, Australia

Science communicators often stress the need to make messages ‘relevant’, or engage with people on an ‘emotional level’, but what do these terms mean, and if communication has these qualities from publics’ perspectives, what effect does it have? Understanding this at the individual level underpins transforming science-society relationships.

Relevance is critical to impactful communication, however specific in-depth research on relevance is limited in science communication, except in the science-policy space (e.g. Cash et al., 2003). Recent research in educational psychology conceptualising relevance as a continuum from personal association, to personal usefulness, to identification (Priniski et al., 2018) or as the connection between content and identity (Hartwell & Kaplan, 2018) – this latter model validated in a biology context – may be helpful for science communicators. Similarly, emotions are central to effective science communication (Davies & Horst, 2016), however as a field we are only beginning to rigorously investigate which emotions are critical and in which contexts (e.g. Yeo, Sun, McKasy, & Shugart, 2019).

This paper shares research on the relationship between relevance and emotion (curiosity, surprise, interest and enjoyment) and resulting motivation during a science communication event. The research quantitively measured these variables during a series of youth-focussed science presentations (n=342), then modelled relationships with the aim of establishing which factors were associated with motivating audiences and transforming their intended behaviour. Relevance was critical, and emotions including surprise and curiosity had significant effects, though others did not. The findings suggest specific areas for science communicators to focus on if their primary aim is to motivate.

As science communication moves towards participatory models with greater involvement of publics, understanding better how people judge relevance in science and its communication, and the role of emotional reactions, are key areas to explore if our work is to transform individuals and societies.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Time