Findings from the NUCOREpus: A Field Study of Intuitive Language Across Science Communications

Presenter: Emily E. Dahlgaard Thor

Research Category: Social Sciences, Business, and Law
Student Type: Graduate
Additional Authors: Eliza Grossman, Shrreya Aagarwal, Kristhy Bartels, Natalia Chavez, Melissa Morgan, Nicole Pochinki, Kyleigh Watson, John D. Coley
PI: Emily E. Dahlgaard Thor
Award Winner Category: Social Sciences, Business and Law, Best Video Pitch

There is an urgent need for accessible and relevant science publications – our research looks to address this need through informed cognitive science. Research in cognitive science indicates that people rely on intuitive thought patterns, known as “cognitive construals,”  to make sense of complex scientific topics. Three of these cognitive construals – anthropic (using humans as a base for reasoning), teleological (reverse causal reasoning), and essentialist (assuming an underlying essence) thinking – have been shown to relate to scientific misconceptions (Coley & Tanner, 2015), and are aligned with intuitive language. Our current work seeks to understand how intuitive language is currently being used in online science communications. To do this, we built a first-of-its-kind corpus of over 360 freely accessible science articles (NUCOREpus), geared towards varying audiences: these audiences were the general public, science-interested audiences, and science scholars. Researchers have examined 60 of these articles (about the topic of DNA specifically) for the present study. These articles were methodically coded for construal-consistent intuitive language, among other things. Results showed that intuitive language decreases significantly (X², p=0.002) as the intended audience has increasing subject-based knowledge. These data support our hypothesis that publications geared towards the general public contain more intuitive language than those geared towards scholarly audiences. This suggests that authors rely on intuitive language to convey complex scientific content to non-expert audiences, which has major implications for how people, especially non-experts, may understand that information.