Current Research Projects
De- and restabilisation of evidence in the corona crisis
The project aims to investigate how the production, communication and social negotiation of scientific evidence on COVID-19 take place under the conditions of the Corona crisis. The rapid dissemination of COVID-19 and the associated pressure to act and make decisions increase the need for trustworthy scientific knowledge: contradictory experts, frequently corrected figures, statistics and recommendations, as well as the intensive medialisation of dissent and conflicts also feed scepticism towards established sources of evidence. Against this background, this interdisciplinary project aims to investigate the de- and restabilisation of scientific evidence in the corona crisis. Four central arenas of the negotiation of evidence on COVID-19 will be examined (scientific research, medical practice, science journalism and social media). The sub-project by Helena Bilandzic and Susanne Kinnebrock is dedicated to science journalism: media coverage of scientific work and findings on COVID-19 will be examined with the help of a quantitative content analysis.
Impact potentials of narrative evidence in reporting on genetic research (2020-2024)
The project is dedicated to the design and impact of evidence practices typical of journalism on the topic of genetic research, with a focus on narration that is close to everyday life and generally understandable. The project is part of the DFG research group "Practicing Evidence - Evidencing Practice. Evidenzpraktiken in Wissenschaft, Medizin, Technik und Gesellschaft" (Evidence Practices in Science, Medicine, Technology and Society) and in the first phase, which ended in 2020, examined evidence practices in German print and TV reporting on genetic research with a quantitative content analysis. Three types of stories emerged: Narratives about (1) the research process and the course of the study, (2) researcher personalities and (3) the persons researched or affected. The aim of the follow-up project is to shed light on the differential effects of these narrative types. In three coordinated experiments with cross-sectional samples, the effect on the memory and understanding of scientific criteria as well as the credibility of studies and researchers will be investigated.
Project Management: Helena Bilandzic & Susanne Kinnebrock
Project team members: Theresa Stahlhut
Project duration: 2020-2024
Evidence-based health information for pulmonary embolism patients in the post-acute phase of treatment (2020-2023)
Pulmonary embolisms rank among the third most frequent cardiovascular diseases in Germany. Nevertheless, the amount of reliable, disease-specific patient information on this topic is low. This project tests communicative strategies for patient information brochures. Different types of narratives will provide affected patients with knowledge about the disease and its consequences. The overall objective is to strengthen patients' self-efficacy beliefs about their coping skills and to improve their quality of life.
This project is funded by the Federal Joint Committee (G-BA).
It is a project cooperation between the Department of Epidemiology of UNIKA-T Augsburg, the University Hospital Augsburg, and the Techniker Krankenkasse.
Project Management at the Department of Media, Knowledge, and Communication/University of Augsburg: Prof. Dr. Helena Bilandzic and Dr. Anja Kalch
Project team members: Aliscia Albani and Constanze Küchler
Project duration: 2020-2023
Project management at the Department of Epidemiology of UNIKA-T and the consortium: Dr. Inge Kirchberger
DFG-project: Effects of narrative evidence in science news coverage of genomic research (2020-2024)
This project investigates the strategies used by journalists to provide evidence for scientific claims in science news and how such ‘evidencing practices’ ultimately affect the audience. Specifically, we consider narratives as evidencing practices as they allow an intuitive understanding of complex scientific issues.
- In the first phase of this project, print and televised German news reports on genomic research were examined for evidencing practices in a content analysis. Results show that almost half of the scientific claims reported are accompanied by narratives. In addition, narratives do not stand alone, but are most often combined with other evidencing practices (i.e. references to authorities or data). Narratives are used to support scientific claims and only rarely to contradict them. Generally, the narratives found in science coverage have a rich narrative quality (or high level of narrativity). Three types of narratives have emerged: stories of (1) the research process and the course of the study, (2) scientists conducting the research and (3) people benefitting from the research or being affected by it.
- The second phase of the project is driven by this differentiated view of narratives in science news coverage. Following theories of narrative processing and persuasion, we assume that different types of stories have different effects on audiences. Also, we expect that narrativity (the way in which the plot, the structure and the language of a story are elaborated) plays a significant role. The goal of the second phase is to explore such differential effects of narratives. Three consecutive experiments with cross-sectional samples investigate the effects of narratives on recall, understanding of scientific criteria, and the credibility of studies and researchers. We will systematically investigate the effects of the three types of narratives and of lower or higher levels of narrativity. Narrative engagement – the subjective experience of being immersed in a story – serves as a central mediator.
After having analyzed the dynamics between destabilizing and restabilizing forces on scientific evidence in the content analysis of phase one, we consider this interaction and subject it to a careful test: the second phase specifically investigates the conditions under which stabilizing effects of science narratives actually occur on an individual level. By considering the effects of different narratives of science on audiences, this project explores a mode of communication that is relevant for communicating and negotiating between different cultures of evidencing. In doing so, the project supports a central tenet of the research group by providing insight into the way in which individuals interpret, learn about and accept scientific evidence.
The project will contribute to the fields of narrative persuasion and science communication by developing a differentiated theoretical account of media narratives, and testing specific mechanisms of effects.
Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Helena Bilandzic & Prof. Dr. Susanne Kinnebrock
Project managers: Theresa Stahlhut
Project duration: 2020-2024
Funding: Part of the DFG-Research Unit “Practicing Evidence - Evidencing Practice in Science, Medicine Technology and Society“
DFG-project: Narrative as a mode of evidence in public discourse about genetic research (2017-2020)
Genetic research is popular – as a field of inquiry, but also as a topic in mass media. It is mainly therapeutic applications and the fear of uncontrollable gene mutations that account for the overwhelming attention afforded to genetic research by society as a whole and in the media, despite the fact that the topic is highly abstract and, thus, difficult to communicate. This raises the question how results from genetic research may be presented to a lay audience and how evidence may be attributed to research which is potentially impenetrable for regular citizens. As a non-scientific audience lacks the expertise to routinely evaluate scientific findings, journalism has the crucial role of setting out the appropriateness of research results and conveying which findings are deemed to be evident to a media audience. Journalists in fact engage in (second-level) practicing evidence. On the one hand, journalists themselves are recipients of scientific evidence; on the other hand, they communicate scientific evidence to the public at large – certainly not without transforming scientific evidence according to media logics.
This project explores the use of narratives for practicing evidence in the media. We assume that media – in addition to the practice of evidencing through presentation of methods and data borrowed from science – use narratives to explain and qualify genetic research.
Narratives have a privileged position among all possible presentation forms: Audiences are familiar with this type of everyday communication; also, narratives facilitate memory, interest, understanding, accessibility and relevance attribution in scientific topics. This is especially true for topics that are abstract and cannot usually be experienced in daily life – such as genetic research.
In a standardized content analysis of a wide array of print media coverage on genetic research, we explore narratives as a mode of evidence, and compare it to other modes used in the media. The analysis includes the focus of the story on genetic research (e.g., story about gaining scientific insight, about the people concerned by the study results, or about the scientists involved), the level of narrativity as well as references to fictional master plots such as the Frankenstein myth. Ultimately, we relate these categories to the valence of media coverage.
Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Susanne Kinnebrock & Prof. Dr. Helena Bilandzic
Project managers: Magdalena Klingler
Project duration: 2017-2020
Funding: Part of the DFG-Research Unit “Practicing Evidence - Evidencing Practice in Science, Medicine Technology and Society“
DFG-project: Sanctions among users of comments sections on news websites and on Facebook
Users of news websites and social network sites can comment on professional media content and interact with other users. However, the discussions do not always live up to the hopes of a deliberative discourse, which ought to represent diverse viewpoints, be rational, respectful, coherent, sincere, and comprehensible. Uncivil and impolite comments in particular disrupt the discussions. Users can take action against inappropriate comments by writing reply comments and using social buttons. That way, they negotiate shared norms in online interactions and complement the work of professional moderators. This project examines the ways in which users sanction other comment authors in online discussions and which factors influence their sanctioning method. It conducts a qualitative and a quantitative content analysis of user comments on news websites of mass media institutions and on their Facebook pages. It analyses the strategies and particularities of reply comments and the use of social buttons as a means of sanctioning other users. The project considers the influence of characteristics of the sanctioned comments, of the preceding threads, of the discourse architectures of the websites, and of the commented media contents. In so doing, it contributes to research on social norms, their negotiation and control in computer-mediated interactions, and it generates knowledge to support the regulation of user comments in the field.
Project Management: Dr. Teresa K. Naab
Project Team Members: Constanze Küchler
Project Duration: 2017-2020
Completed Research Projects
DFG-project: Television stories and social reality: Moral effects and the role of emotional processes (2013-2015)
This project seeks to explore the complex relationships between fictional television as a major source of vicarious social experience and the audience’s social reality notions. We build on insights gained in the first phase funded by the DFG (2009-2012), during which we analysed genre-specific patterns of moral messages in contemporary television series and derived a set of moral messages (implications of media portrayals about right and wrong behaviour). This project (2012-2014) explores the influence of moral messages in media on audience’s moral cognition and behaviour in two related studies.
The first is a cross-sectional cultivation survey, which deals with the way in which genre-specific patterns of moral messages affect regular viewers. Building on cultivation theory and moral psychology, we assume that heavy viewers of morally laden genres, in comparison to light viewers, will overestimate norm violations prevalent in their favoured genre, be more likely to recognize the moral relevance of a particular situation (moral sensitivity), will have certain moral constructs chronically accessible for social judgments (moral chronicity) and will more likely use genre-consistent schemas of moral reasoning. We assume that the propensity for narrative engagement moderates these relationships.
The second study takes as its starting point another important finding of the narrative content analysis conducted in the first period: Anger is the most frequent emotional reaction to norm violations displayed in fictional television. The goal of the second study in this project is to explore the effects of such emotional displays in television narratives for moral cognition and retaliation behaviour. We assume that watching norm violation scripts containing anger and retribution should make the corresponding moral schema more accessible; this will increase moral sensitivity. Also, moral schemas are more accessible for processing subsequent social information; people will tend to memorize and recall social information related to moral concepts. Finally, exposure will prime immoral options of behaviour (including retaliation); people will make use of the activated schemas and specifically the emotionally laden behavioural scripts to plan their own behaviour. Emotional processes play a decisive role in both narrative effects and moral development. Thus, we assume that the effects described above will be mediated through emotional processes during viewing (narrative emotional engagement, empathy, sympathy).
DFG-project: Television stories and social reality: Narrative-specific effects, their mechanisms, and interactions with personal experience (2009-2012)
This project investigates how television stories alter the audience’s perception of social reality. Narrative engagement – the cognitive and emotional experience of a story accompanied by reduced awareness of self, surroundings and time passage – is assumed to constitute the central mechanism of narrative influence. A set of “narrative-specific effects” is developed that considers the specifics of narrative content and narrative engagement, and may indicate narrative effects more accurately than traditional media outcomes such as beliefs and attitudes: Narratives may (1) provide insights into social problems, (2) convey norm violation scripts, and (3) serve as a basis for generalizations. The research program is composed of three parts that are carried out in international and interdisciplinary collaboration. The first part conducts a narrative analysis on a sample of television stories to find deeper-level content patterns. The second part explores the relationships between story content, narrative engagement, physiological processes, and narrative-specific effects to gain deeper insight into the mechanisms of narrative influence and validate a trait and a state scale for narrative engagement. The third part investigates how consistent and inconsistent prior knowledge changes narrative engagement and narrative-specific effects.