2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 11:00 AM


REITAN, Paul H., SUNY at Buffalo, 876 Natural Science Complex, Buffalo, NY 14260-3050, preitan@buffalo.edu

Geologists are able to serve society only if their findings are accepted and activate responses that promote socially beneficial conduct. Communications to the public that "backfire" may be worse than not having communicated the findings at all.

Cialdini(2003)published thoughts that all of us who wish to communicate with a broad public ought to be aware of and keep in mind. His thoughts prompt and inform this talk.

Example: geologists recognize widespread danger of unstable slopes in a particular region and the public is to be warned about that. The message must be crafted with the likely psychological response in mind. To warn that "many people have recently built houses on the unstable slopes of XXXX" carries the subliminal message that this is a practice that MANY ARE engaged in and, therefore, what could be wrong with it?

If the central message brought to people is that many school districts are seriously thinking that they should mandate the teaching of alternatives to the theory of evolution in science classrooms, the dominant message retained might be: "Lots of them are doing that so it must be a good idea - at least worth trying out." The more complex message that the science education in their schools is being corrupted might be missed.

Calling attention to the fact that particular practices are widely practiced, even though unacceptable or undesirable or dangerous, might lead listeners to "join the crowd" in engaging in those behaviors. Ideally we should try to align injunctions about societally beneficial uses of geological information, i.e. what is approved or disapproved of, with descriptions of what people widely or typically are doing in order to activate responses our findings call for.

Cialdini, R. B. 2003, Crafting normative messages to protect the environment: Current Directions in Psychological Science, v. 12, p. 105-109