October 15, 2015

Boost Interest & Excitement

Engagement Object: Foster Interest in Science


Good: Communicators should rehearse and practice their communication to ensure focused content and engaging delivery.

Better: Communicators should work with those who have expertise in designing engaging communication for specific audiences.

Best: Communicators should regularly assess whether those with whom they are communicating are engaged or entertained in the subject (and make changes if they’re not).

Always: Communicators should structure their communication in ways meant to be interesting to those with whom they are interacting.

Description of the objective: The expectation is that science communicators who are interesting—even entertaining—can generate both short- and long-term motivation to further engage with science topics. In the short term, this might mean more willingness to hear and think about a new idea. In the longer-term, this might mean a willingness to choose to read an article about science, watch a science program, visit a science museum, or even consider a science-related career.

A National Research Council (2009) report highlighted excitement, interest, and motivation as central objectives of informal science environments such as science museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, and science-related media. As the report noted, these environments are important because they allow participants to choose where to put their attention and with little opportunity for failure. Researchers believe that the positive emotions created by enjoyable experiences leads to a desire to engage further, although cognitive factors (i.e., learning) may also be relevant (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

Factors that pique interest can include things such as surprise, identification with a communicator, personal relevance, and the nature of a situation (for a review, see: Hidi & Renninger, 2006). These are all factors that can be designed into communication.

Museums (Serrell, 2006) and science festivals (Jensen & Buckley, 2014), of course, have long recognized the value of providing a comfortable environment, engaging participants, and personalizing experiences where possible.

Health and risk communicators devote substantial attention to making messages interesting through personal tailoring of messages (Hawkins, Kreuter, Resnicow, Fishbein, & Dijkstra, 2008), as well as by embedding messages within entertainment contexts (Slater & Rouner, 2002). Similarly, narratives (i.e., story-telling) can help generate interest in science (Dahlstrom, 2014)

What this objective affects

Numerous disciplines focus on ‘interest’ as a central path to shaping how people think about science. The education literature specifically suggests that interest drives additional attention, topic-related goal-setting, and learning (for a review, see: Hidi & Renninger, 2006). One study, for example, found that many Los Angeles, CA, residents said that “interest or curiosity” had caused them to seek out information about a specific science topic.

Similarly, persuasion and cognitive processing research has highlighted interest as an initial basis for whether or not a person will devote cognitive resources to a message. People will tend to ignore communication if something doesn’t ‘motivate them to process’ because of personal (i.e., relevance) or situational (i.e., importance) factors (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).

Overall, about half of Americans report that they are “very interested” in various topics related to science, although several other issues do equally well or better (e.g., economic issues) (National Science Board, 2014). Also, it appears that interest in science is associated with positive views about scientists (Besley, 2015).

Example Studies

Yaros (2006) showed that restructuring a science news story from a traditional format to one that was more explanatory increased interest and understanding for those with less scientific expertise.

Sanz-Menéndez, Van Ryzin, and del Pino (2014) found that interest in science, as well as having attended science museums or events, were among the most important predictors of support for public spending on science.

Falk and Adelman (2003) found that that those with moderate and low knowledge and interest were the ones who gained the most interest from an aquarium visit, although their knowledge gains were relatively less (also, see: Dierking et al., 2004) .


Besley, J. C. (2015). Predictors of perceptions of scientists: Comparing 2001 and 2012. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, Advance online publication.

Dahlstrom, M. F. (2014). Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(Supplement 4), 13614-13620. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320645111

Dierking, L. D., Adelman, L. M., Ogden, J., Lehnhardt, K., Miller, L., & Mellen, J. D. (2004). Using a behavior change model to document the impact of visits to Disney’s Animal Kingdom: A study investigating intended conservation action. Curator: The Museum Journal, 47(3), 322-343. doi:10.1111/j.2151-6952.2004.tb00128.x

Falk, J. H., & Adelman, L. M. (2003). Investigating the impact of prior knowledge and interest on aquarium visitor learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(2), 163-176. doi:10.1002/tea.10070

Hawkins, R. P., Kreuter, M., Resnicow, K., Fishbein, M., & Dijkstra, A. (2008). Understanding tailoring in communicating about health. Health Education Research, 23(3), 454-466. doi:10.1093/her/cyn004

Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111-127. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4

Jensen, E., & Buckley, N. (2014). Why people attend science festivals: Interests, motivations and self-reported benefits of public engagement with research. Public Understanding of Science, 23(5), 557-573. doi:10.1177/0963662512458624

National Research Council. (2009). Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Science Board. (2014). Science and technology: Public attitudes and public understanding (Chapter 7). Science and Engineering Indicators.  Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion: Springer.

Sanz-Menéndez, L., Van Ryzin, G. G., & del Pino, E. (2014). Citizens’ support for government spending on science and technology. Science and Public Policy, 41(5), 611-624. doi:10.1093/scipol/sct091

Serrell, B. (2006). Judging exhibitions: A framework for assessing excellence: Left Coast Press.

Slater, M. D., & Rouner, D. (2002). Entertainment—education and elaboration likelihood: Understanding the processing of narrative persuasion. Communication Theory, 12(2), 173-191. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2002.tb00265.x

Yaros, R. A. (2006). Is it the medium or the message? Structuring complex news to enhance engagement and Situational understanding by nonexperts. Communication Research, 33(4), 285-309.  Retrieved from <Go to ISI>://000239061400004

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