The effects of social identity threat and social identity affirmation on laypersons' perception of scientists

Public Underst Sci. 2017 Oct;26(7):754-770. doi: 10.1177/0963662516631289. Epub 2016 Feb 22.


Public debates about socio-scientific issues (e.g. climate change or violent video games) are often accompanied by attacks on the reputation of the involved scientists. Drawing on the social identity approach, we report a minimal group experiment investigating the conditions under which scientists are perceived as non-prototypical, non-reputable, and incompetent. Results show that in-group affirming and threatening scientific findings (compared to a control condition) both alter laypersons' evaluations of the study: in-group affirming findings lead to more positive and in-group threatening findings to more negative evaluations. However, only in-group threatening findings alter laypersons' perceptions of the scientists who published the study: scientists were perceived as less prototypical, less reputable, and less competent when their research results imply a threat to participants' social identity compared to a non-threat condition. Our findings add to the literature on science reception research and have implications for understanding the public engagement with science.

Keywords: public engagement with science; science attitudes and perceptions; science communication; social identity; subtyping; threat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Perception*
  • Professional Competence*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Science*
  • Social Identification*