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Emotions and emotional appeals in science communication

22.05.2019 21:53 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Special Issue in Media and Communication

Deadline: May 31, 2019

Editors: Monika Taddicken and Anne Reif, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Institute of Social Sciences,, Department of Communication and Media Sciences.


In 1985, the Royal Society of London declared that a better public understanding of science (about results as well as methods) is necessary for individual citizens to make reasoned, personal decisions in most aspects of daily life (Bodmer, 1985). Scientists, scientific institutions, and the media were requested to encourage public understanding of science by communicating more information to the public. Empirical research, however, could not prove a positive correlation between the amount of information about and knowledge of science the public has and its positive attitude toward scientific topics. As a result, the assumption of knowledge deficit that can be addressed with better information distribution has been criticized. For science communication this means that simply communicating more information to the public is not sufficient and further considerations are required.

This begs the question of whether emotion is relevant in scientific discourse. Currently, particularly among practical science communicators, there is a great deal of discussion on how individuals can be reached, not only through pure science communication, but also through emotional appeals. Innovative, target group-oriented formats show an increasing trend toward an ‘edutainment’ approach to science communication that focuses on the emotional experience of the audience (Gerber, 2011, p. 11). From an academic viewpoint, this form of science communication is often regarded as trivial and met with skepticism. However, there has been very little empirical research done relating to usage, reception, and the effect of these new formats of science communication.

Public discussion around so-called ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ as well as the accusations against the alleged ‘lying press’ direct the glance further toward negative aspects of emotional appeals and debates. This is also relevant for the communication of science and science-related topics. Following the Habermasian ideal, public communication should follow rational, critical reasoning and aim to achieve a consensus based on facts and respectful contributions of equal and rationally motivated participants. Nevertheless, deviations from this ideal are currently observed in the public sphere and give reason for further research in science communication.

This is, more or less, attributed to the modern communication environments that have formed through the establishment of social media networks. In these networks, trolls and bots, but also potential echo chambers and paradoxes of participation (Schmidt, 2018), influence the public discourse about topics such as science. Against the backdrop of ‘hate speech’ in social media and the linked alleged verbal coarsening in the debating culture, the so-called ‘sensitivity communication’ (Barth & Wagner, 2015) is commonly presented in a negative light. Emotions that are evoked by science communication or intentional emotional appeals are often explicitly associated with an overarching trend of disaffection with elites and a (possibly profound) loss of trust in societal authorities and systems. This is especially true when considering that leading politicians publically question the truth of scientific results and thus contest fundamental epistemological criteria.

Thus, it seems more important than ever to bring research on emotion, in the context of science and the public, into focus. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss whether or not the assumption of the dichotomy of reason and emotion withstands, or if the relationship between affective and cognitive debates has to be rethought and reinterpreted. Particularly in the context of science communication, which is known for its high complexity and uncertainty, the question arises as to what extent evidence-based and emotional appeals can be understood as opposites.

The discussion around these and similar aspects are the main focus of this special issue. The following list of thematic areas shall serve for orientation purposes but shall not limit the range of topics of potential submissions. We welcome theoretical and/or empirical papers that engage with these or similar thematic areas.

Thematic Area 1: Emotion and Perception, Interpretation, Effects

This thematic area addresses the question of the emotional processing of science communication. Bearing in mind that, within a public discourse, scientific facts are understood and interpreted individually, it becomes more significant to look closely at the recipients’ perspective. What is the role of emotions (that arise from, e.g., personal concern or individual contexts) for the usage and reception of science-related content? What further approaches are used and what are the current results of the way humans interpret scientific information? In this context, for example, it is relevant to investigate the significance of emotions in the process of complexity management. Emotions such as fear, which may promote over-simplifications or the belief in conspiracy theories, are possible consequences of an individual mental overload in light of the increasing complexity of (scientific) issues and social challenges.

A further area for examination is the individual and social consequences of emotional debates in science communication, e.g., concerning the question of a (potential) loss of trust: What is the role of emotions in a (positive/negative) relationship of trust between science and the public?

Thematic Area 2: Emotions and Participation

Besides ‘traditional’ mass media communication, forms of science communication that are oriented on dialogue, engagement, and participation are becoming increasingly relevant.

Particularly, new media environments, in the form of digital communication and social media, create a low-threshold participation opportunity with the potential to encourage citizens’ participation in science (Stilgoe, Lock, & Wilsdon, 2014). So far, however, there are scarcely any scientific findings concerning participation, as well as the motivation for and the emotional appeal of it. The academic debate stays on normative grounds (Fähnrich, 2017; Stilgoe et al., 2014). Questions to be discussed within this thematic area are, for example: Who can be reached with dialogue-participative formats? Who participates and why? To what extent do emotions motivate participatory processes (e.g., in Citizen Science formats)? How do different forms and degrees of participation influence the (emotional) attitude toward science? What is the role of emotional participation in public discourses about science, e.g., in the context of the March for Science?

Thematic Area 3: Emotional(ized) Content

Practical science communicators increasingly contemplate how science and scientific results should be presented to ‘successfully’ reach a wider public. Can or should the rational position of science and the presentation of abstract results be abandoned in favor of more emotional narratives? Or does this approach undermine the neutrality and thereby credibility of science?

So far, there has been little research on the level of emotionality within science communication, and whether or not science communication varies when it comes to different times, communicators, or formats. Hence, this thematic area takes stock of the question of the relevance of emotion in different areas, contexts, and topics of science. What emotions should be evoked or prevented and by what means (and which are created, see thematic area 1)? This thematic area aims to discuss questions about professional, emotional science communication content and its producers.

Furthermore, the question as to how emotional the recipients’ communicative contribution (e.g., incivility of online comments or un-scientific, user-generated content) in the scientific discourse is, shall be addressed as well.


Deadline for abstracts: 31 May 2019

Deadline for submissions: 15 September 2019

Publication of the special issue: February/March 2020

Instructions for Authors:

Authors interested in submitting a paper for this issue are asked to send, via email, an extended abstract of about 500 to 600 words, with a tentative title and reference to the thematic issue to the Editorial Office ( by 31 May 2019.

Contributions should not be considered for publication elsewhere. This has to be explicitly stated on the cover page. Names must be removed for blind peer reviews.

Please consult the journal’s instructions for authors and Call for Papers. All papers will be proofed in a blind peer-reviewed process.


Barth, N., & Wagner, E. (2015). Erhitzte Öffentlichkeit - zur medialen Transformation

öffentlicher Kommunikation auf Facebook. POP Zeitschrift. Retrieved from

(zuletzt abgerufen am 22.5.2018).

Bodmer. W. (1985). The public understanding of science. London: The Society.

Fähnrich, B. (2017). Wissenschaftsevents zwischen Popularisierung, Engagement und

Partizipation. In H. Bonfadelli, B. Fähnrich, C. Lüthje, J. Milde, M. Rhomberg, & M. S. Schäfer

(Eds.), Forschungsfeld Wissenschaftskommunikation (pp. 165–182). Wiesbaden: Springer

Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

Gerber, A. (2011). Trendstudie Wissenschaftskommunikation - Vorhang auf für Phase 5: Chancen,

Risiken und Forderungen für die nächste Entwicklungsstufe der Wissenschaftskommunikation

(Vol. 1). Berlin: edition innovare/innokomm Forschungszentrum.

Schmidt, J.-H. (2018). Social Media. Wiesbaden: Springer.

Stilgoe, J., Lock, S. J., & Wilsdon, J. (2014). Why should we promote public engagement with

science? Public Understanding of Science, 23(1), 4–15.



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