Selfie-posting scientists more trusted: Study

Washington: Social media has become an inevitable part of everyone’s lives, be it celebs or scientists. A new study has found that scientists who are regular in posting their selfies on their Instagram feed are more trusted than

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, states that scientists usually get respect but people lack trust in them.

“Scientists are famously competent–people report we’re smart, curious, lab nerds–but they’re silent about scientists’ more human qualities,” said Susan Fiske of Princeton University.

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Trust depends on two perceived characteristics of an individual or social group: competence and warmth. Perceptions of competence involve the belief that members of a particular social group are intelligent and have the skills to achieve their goals.

Perceptions of warmth involve the belief that the members of this group also have benevolent goals, or that they are friendly, altruistic, honest and share common values with people outside of their group.

Co-author Becky Carmichael said, “Social media channels, like Instagram, provide an exciting opportunity for scientists to improve their public image.”

She added, “We wondered whether seeing the faces of friendly, honest scientists sharing glimpses of their everyday work in the science lab or field could help change the problematic stereotypes that scientists are competent but not warm.”

The team launched a research project popularly referred to as ‘ScientistsWhoSelfie’.

The idea was to show 1,620 participants images published to one of four different “Scientists of Instagram” rotation-curation accounts and then to ask them questions about their perceptions of those scientists.

Each participant was shown three types of images: a scientific setting, a bioreactor on the lab bench or a plant experiment set-up in a greenhouse with no humans in any of the images but with captions attributing the images to either male or female scientists by name; a smiling male scientist looking at the camera in the same scientific setting and similarly a female scientist’s picture.

People who saw images including a scientist’s smiling face, or “scientist selfies,” evaluated the scientists in the images and scientists in general as significantly warmer than people who saw control images or images of scientific environments or equipment that did not include a person.

Female scientists in selfies were evaluated as significantly warmer than male scientists in selfies or science-only images.

“Seeing scientist selfies, but not images of scientific objects posted by scientists online, boosted perceptions that scientists are both competent and warm,” said lead author Paige Jarreau.

She went on to say, “We think this is because people who viewed science images with a scientist’s face in the picture began to see these scientist communicators on Instagram not as belonging to some unfamiliar group of stereotypically socially inept geniuses.”

Female scientists who uploaded their pictures on Instagram were considered to more attractive.

Lance Porter said, “We believe that overall, scientists who use social media to humanize themselves are helping to foster transparency of science, public trust and interest in science.”


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