Awesome science journalism?

The study “When Science Journalism is Awesome: Measuring Audiences’ Experiences of awe from Reading Science Stories” by Asheley R. Landrum and Kristina Janét from Texas Tech University, Kelsi Opat from Missouri State University and Heather Akin from University of Nebraska-Lincoln surveyed US audiences for facets of awe when exposed to science journalism.

The authors used the five-facet Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S) to measure awe of the participants. There were a total of 2,088 participants in the study, recruited from Qualtrics Research Services and matched the US census data on gender, education, age, area of residence, and race/ethnicity.

Each participant was asked to read one of the eight articles used for the study. The articles were: What a Grieving Orca Tells Us, The History of the Oceans is Locked in Whale Earwax, Death, Then a Search for the Kindest of Words, A Silent Invader Bursts into View, Do We Need a Special Language to Talk to Aliens?, What America Lost when it Lost the Bison?, The Terrain of Strategic Death, and the control article Fungus that Killed Millions of Bats Detected in California.

The first seven articles were selected based on asking collaborators, who were members of science news team, to choose seven articles that they, based on their professional judgment, assumed to elicit awe from the audiences. 

The participants, based on the AWE-S scale, experienced awe and it was connected to sub-facets of the scale of connectedness and vastness. The sub-facet of feeling dominant was not experienced. 

The authors also studied the connection with the feeling of awe to choosing the “wow” reaction on Facebook, as the collaborators had wondered whether they could interpret those reactions as experiences of awe. It was found out that the participants chose “wow” over other reactions, but that the probability of choosing it decreased with increases in the facets of awe, such as self-diminishment. Thus the “wow” reaction is not a good indicator of experiencing awe.

When compared to the control article, the participants experienced slightly more awe about the articles, particularly the facet of vastness. The authors also expected to find a correlation between the participants’ science curiosity and the feeling of awe, and did find a correlation. 

In summary, people reading science stories experienced connectedness and vastness. In Facebook, choosing the “wow” reaction was not a good indicator of experiencing awe, nor was awe significantly correlated with the reader’s science curiosity. Science curiosity was more significant in predicting awe than the type of story – science curious people might also experience awe from ‘business-as-usual’ science stories.

The article “When Science Journalism is Awesome: Measuring Audiences’ Experiences of awe from Reading Science Stories” by Asheley R. Landrum, Kristina Janét, Kelsi Opat and Heather Akin is in Journalism Practice. (open access).

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