Among the Authentic Audience
Lifelong science learning is important for making informed decisions on science topics, and there is a need to engage broader and more diverse audiences with science. One opportunity for engagement occurs when students share science topics with a public audience. Research indicates this interaction can have benefits for students, but little is known about the impact it may have on audience members’ thoughts about science. Youth are different from typical sources of science information, and may elicit different reactions. This dissertation examines the impact youth sources may have on adults’ perceptions of and responses to science topics. Young adults (N = 399) were randomly assigned to one of two scenarios. Both scenarios stated two individuals would describe research they had done about local air quality on the news. One scenario identified the individuals as local high school students, and the other as research scientists from a local institution. Dependent variables included perceptions of the warmth and competence of the presenters, expectations of the quality of the information they would share, willingness to take action based on that information, and general trust in scientists. A subset of participants (N=22) was selected for cognitive interviews and asked to explain the thoughts that influenced their survey responses. Results showed multiple reactions to the scenario. Three groups were identified in the perceptions data: one expressed trust in the presenters, one expressed skepticism, and one based their perceptions on personal experiences doing science. Participants said intertwined thoughts about trust in scientists and assumptions about the presenters’ intentions influenced perceptions, with an overall assumption that youth would have good intentions while adults might not. Participants did not appear to separate their expectations of the information from the people who would share it. However, their willingness to take action was related to the action, not the presenter or information. Findings suggest youth may be an avenue for engaging individuals who have lower trust in typical science information sources. Implications for science education and communication are discussed.