To Selfie or Not to Selfie - How Can Scientists Foster Public Trust on Instagram?

Backed by Deidra Johnson, Learning Goals Institute, LLC, Donald Brown, Rebekka, Sandra Clement, Bethann Garramon Merkle, Grace Kago, Altmetric, Ada Hagan, Jai Ranganathan, and 137 other backers
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
DOI: 10.18258/9699
Raised of $8,750 Goal
Funded on 8/30/17
Successfully Funded
  • $10,704
  • 122%
  • Funded
    on 8/30/17



We plan to test whether a series of scientists humanizing themselves on Instagram (posting friendly photos of themselves in scientific contexts), interacting with their followers, or displaying honesty (Hendriks, Kienhues & Bromme, 2016) may enhance perceptions of scientists’ warmth. 

We will conduct studies employing multiple methods, including (1) an observational study of scientists’ use of Instagram, to explore relationships between visual characteristics of posts and viewer engagement (comments, likes, etc); (2) a lab experiment to explore causal links between humanizing aspects of scientists’ Instagram posts and viewers’ perceptions; and (3) a similar online survey experiment using a broad sample of Instagram users and/or U.S. adults.

For all experiments, we will use newly created "Scientists of Instagram" rocur accounts as well as participant “viewing” accounts so that all content to which participants are exposed is curated and controlled. We will be working with scientists experienced in using Instagram to create realistic stimulus materials. Following content exposure, we will ask participants to rate the warmth and credibility of the Instagrammers as well as scientists in general, among other related outcome measures. The scientist's gender and skin color will be taken into account.

Participants will be debriefed following experiments and directed to follow the real scientists upon which the stimulus content will be based. 

(This study has been approved by the IRB office for human subjects research at LSU).

Example of stimulus image series: A) science-only, B) male human element, C) female human element.  

We will initially explore the following research questions:

  • What individual factors are related to perceptions of scientists’ warmth and competence?
  • Does the presence of a smiling face in scientists’ Instagram posts influence perceptions of warmth / competence of scientists?
  • When the smiling face of the scientist is present in scientists’ Instagram posts, does the gender or ethnicity of the face influence perceptions of warmth / competence of scientists?
  • Does interaction between scientists and their followers, in the form of replies to comments, significantly influence perceptions of warmth / competence?
  • Does the admission of an experimental/methodological error in the caption of a scientist’s Instagram post influence perceptions of warmth / competence of scientists, as compared to no admission or to another expert pointing out the error in a comment?
  • Do greater perceptions of warmth enhance perceived credibility / recall / understanding of scientific information shared via scientists’ Instagram captions?


Our primary challenge will be collecting an adequate number of survey responses, both in the lab and online, to validate the main effects of our Instagram stimulus materials on perceptions of scientists. By backing this crowd-funding project, you'll be helping us secure survey incentives for participants, allowing us to collect a larger amount of data.

Pre Analysis Plan

We will analyze our final data using IBM SPSS. We will use statistical tests including analysis of variance and linear regression to determine predictors of perceptions of scientists' warmth and competence and the main effects of our various stimulus material conditions.


Browse the protocols that are part of the experimental methods.