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Caveats in science-based news stories communicate caution without lowering interest

Bott, Lewis ORCID:, Bratton, Luke, Diaconu, Bianca, Adams, Rachel C. ORCID:, Challenger, Aimee, Boivin, Jacky ORCID:, Williams, Andrew ORCID: and Sumner, Petroc ORCID: 2019. Caveats in science-based news stories communicate caution without lowering interest. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 25 (4) , pp. 517-542. 10.1037/xap0000232

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Science stories in the media are strongly linked to changes in health-related behavior. Science writers (including journalists, press officers, and researchers) must therefore frame their stories to communicate scientific caution without disrupting coherence and disengaging the reader. In this study we investigate whether caveats (“Further research is needed to validate the results”) satisfy this dual requirement. In four experiments participants read news reports with and without caveats. In Experiments 1 to 3, participants judged how cautious or confident researchers were, and how interesting or comprehensible they found the reports. News reports with caveats were judged as more cautious that those without, but levels of reader interest and comprehensibility were unaffected. In a fourth experiment, we created a mock newsroom and recruited journalism students to make judgments about which press releases should be published. Here, neither caveats nor the introduction of qualifying expressions in headlines had an effect on judgments of newsworthiness, consistent with Experiments 1 to 3. The reasons participants gave for rejecting a press release rarely referred to the caveat. Our results therefore suggest that science writers should include caveats in news reporting and that they can do so without fear of disengaging their readers or losing news uptake

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: American Psychological Association
ISSN: 1076-898X
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 8 April 2019
Date of Acceptance: 30 March 2019
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2023 12:09

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