Experimental researchers often find themselves of two minds when interacting with the public. On one side, researchers gather knowledge and test hypotheses based on participants’ responses. On the other side, they use their own knowledge and expertise to engage and educate the public about topics of public concern related to their science.

Abby Walker, an associate professor of linguistics in the Department of English at Virginia Tech, and her collaborator secured a National Science Foundation grant to investigate how to combine these two roles. The project is called “Every participant counts: Investigating the impact of experimental language research on participants.”

Why it matters

“By exploring the idea that experimental studies are an opportunity for public engagement, we have the potential to increase the impact of social and behavioral research,” said Walker, who is the principal investigator for the grant.

Goals of the project

The researchers will exam both positive and negative messages that participants deduce from common experimental techniques. They will explore the role that improved science communication methods can have on engaging and educating participants. The project aims to understand how methodological choices affect participants' grasp of linguistics and how effective science communication can address negative and amplify positive outcomes of participating in social science research.

Who’s involved

Charlotte Vaughn, an assistant research professor at the University of Maryland, is Walker’s collaborator.

The National Science Foundation awarded this grant through its Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences research area in the behavioral and cognitive sciences, which supports basic research in the psychological, linguistic, anthropological, and geographic sciences.

The Linguistics, Science of Science, and Human Networks and Data Science-Infrastructure programs co-funds the $271,000. Virginia Tech will receive $147,000 of the award to support undergraduate research assistants, participants costs, and indirect costs. 

Virginia Tech voice

“Dr. Walker’s research continues to strengthen the language sciences program in the Department of English and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences,” said Kelly Pender, chair of Department of English. “We are thrilled that her collaborative, interdisciplinary work is receiving national attention and funding, particularly since it has such a strong public outreach component.”

Written by Leslie King