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University researchers crowdfunding to explore ‘humanized Instagram posts’ by scientists

‘How,’ ask researchers, ‘can scientists foster trust on Instagram?’

An ancient and unanswered scientific question may finally receive an answer: can scientists appear warmer and more friendly if they post nice photographs of themselves on social media?

A group of university researchers are crowdfunding to find out. “To Selfie or Not to Selfie,” a campaign on the crowdfunding website Experiment.com, seeks to explore “whether scientists’ humanized Instagram posts influence viewers’ perceptions of scientists’ competence and warmth.”

“Scientists have a public image problem,” the researchers write. “They need the public’s trust as information disseminators, but to earn this they need to demonstrate a shared value system and engage people’s emotions…Social media channels like Instagram provide an exciting opportunity for scientists to improve their public image.”

The researchers, who are affiliated with Louisiana State University, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Delaware and the University of Toronto, seek to “explore how scientists may or may not promote public trust depending on how they present themselves on Instagram.” They will “conduct lab-based and online experiments using posts created for us by real scientists” and “test changes in viewers’ perceptions when scientists share friendly photos of themselves.”

Some of the “research questions” the scientists hope to explore:

What individual factors are related to perceptions of scientists’ warmth and competence?

Does the presence of a smiling face in scientists’ Instagram posts influence perceptions of warmth / competence of scientists?

When the smiling face of the scientist is present in scientists’ Instagram posts, does the gender or ethnicity of the face influence perceptions of warmth / competence of scientists?

Does interaction between scientists and their followers, in the form of replies to comments, significantly influence perceptions of warmth / competence?

The goal of the crowdfunding campaign is $8,750.

Read about the crowdfunding campaign here, including the experiment’s methodology, here.

MORE: University students say science should be ‘scratched’ — because ‘colonization and racism’

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