A spoonful of celebrity could help the science go down more smoothly. A new study has found that exposure to celebrity opinions on evolution can influence an individual’s own acceptance.
Evolution is a basic scientific principle that’s been around for well over a hundred years, yet many people today continue to misunderstand or reject the facts straight out.
Since the very beginning, scientists have been trying to get more people on board with the idea, and this latest research suggests a dose of George Clooney is all they needed.
The study focused on 360 college students in Canada, who each read an article on evolution. The articles were either skeptical of the theory, supportive, or neutral.
Half the time, they were written by an expert in biology – a fictional biology professor from a prestigious American university – and the rest of the time, the article was framed as a celebrity book review written by George Clooney.
The participants then completed a questionnaire to measure their acceptance of the theory of evolution.
The findings show that opinions on evolution can be influenced by male celebrities, even after controlling for age and religious inclinations, at least in the subjects of this study.
Even more surprising, George Clooney was found to be far more effective at changing the minds of college students than an actual (albeit fictional) scientist.
In fact, the fictional biology professor’s endorsement of evolution did not have any significant impact on the college students’ opinion.
Even when the researchers swapped George Clooney out with Emma Watson, the pattern remained the same. This suggests that even women, whose opinions are sometimes disregarded in the scientific arena, are able to have an impact on public beliefs if they have the right level of stardom.
Examples of these findings are clear to see even in real life. When it comes to climate change, another scientific topic that is too often met with public scrutiny, celebrities can spread messages much further than the average climate scientist.
There’s something about climate heroes like Harrison Ford that makes people sit up and listen. Twice in the past two years, Ford has spoken out against climate denying politicians, and each time his remarks have gone viral.
Perhaps it’s because we are more likely to believe people we see as part of the same cultural group as us – a principle known as cultural cognition. Many people seem to relate to celebrities far easier than to scientists, perhaps because we think we know the celebrities more as people.
So, when it comes to spreading evidence-based knowledge, celebrities could be the tool that scientists have been missing.
Although we must remember that their influence can be a double-edged sword.
When stars like Justin Bieber scoff at the Big Bang theory (no, not the show, the actual theory) or Jim Carrey spews out some anti-vax nonsense, it can have the exact opposite effect, spreading ignorance instead of truth.
So if you’re going to follow the team’s results and get celebrity endorsements for your science project, finding the right celebrity is a must.
This study has been published in Evolutionary Psychology.