Jun 8, 2022

The Stories We Tell Ourselves with Dr. Brie Linkenhoker (podcast)

New research into how people view their relationship with science may help us understand polarization and inspire ways to fuel a sense of awe and wonder around science.

By Templeton Staff

How do people's relationships with science influence our capacity to flourish? Dr. Brie Linkenhoker and a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Worldview Studio are surveying people about how they view science. Linkenhoker and her team are one of Templeton World Charity Foundation's eleven Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing awardees. Listen to this Stories of Impact podcast to hear about some of their recent findings, and learn how Worldview's inquiries may lead to a new understanding of polarization around issues like climate change and vaccination. You'll also hear why Linkenhoker is hopeful that this research can help humanity realize a wider appreciation of science so we can foster a deeper connection to each other and to the world around us.

Story interventions

Through the scientific research of personal narratives, Linkenhoker and her team have been exploring the influence of our personal storytelling on our behavior, wellbeing, and achievement. They look at how stories differ across cultures and generations, and how they change with meaningful intervention from families, mentors, and media. These narratives, says Linkenhoker, "order the way we see the world, and they order what we pay attention to. They determine what choices we see for ourselves and how we prioritize those choices."

Story intervention means a change in the narrative is introduced. In the podcast conversation, you'll hear examples of this from studies within families and among college students. Linkenhoker shares how this line of experimenting led her to consider the positive implications of story interventions, not just for individuals and families, but for society at large.

Science and communication

"I started getting interested in how these stories can order our behavior and really create some differences in the way that you and I might see the world... And that's really the link to this body of work that TWCF is sponsoring around Listening and Learning in a Polarized World," shares Linkenhoker. "We started thinking maybe part of the polarization that we're seeing right now in the world is the result of us having very, very different stories about how the world works, the role that each of us can expect to play there, and how we generate new knowledge, facts and understanding."


Maybe part of the polarization that we're seeing right now in the world is the result of us having very, very different stories about how the world works.


Linkenhoker became curious about how the public views science, and her team began to conduct interviews investigating people’s ideas about science and their emotional responses to it. The results found many interviewed thought science was a process. Others talked about science as a collection of content. They often referenced what they'd learned in school or what their children were learning in school. A few of respondents saw science as an industry or a profession. Many people interviewed didn't have "a lot of proximity to science in its everyday methodology, but have a kind of awe and reverence for science."

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, survey results revealed "how much people 'trust in science', and they're showing still pretty high numbers across the board, both in the United States and globally. But that doesn't seem to be reflected in the way that people are talking about masking and vaccination. And there seems to be so much more polarization around those issues — same with climate change — than you would expect if people really trusted in what the science was telling them."

Part of this disconnect could be coming from the way scientific information is presented to the public. Linkenhoker believes it's important for science communicators and members of the media to recognize that "people want to make their own decisions, and they don't do that on the basis of authority. It's not enough to say 98% of scientists agree that the climate is changing and the cause is human behavior. That doesn't cut it anymore." Worldview hopes to advance the understanding of what people want from science communication that will help them have the experience they want of doing their own research. Although the training and tools for most scientists to do so are currently scarce, Linkenhoker suggests a key to this is for scientists to explain the data, to share with people the path they've followed to reach their assertions. If scientists don't, warns Linkenhoker, a door is potentially left open for someone else "to come in with a different story, and create the illusion of doing that, and people will fall for it."

Flourishing and science

Linkenhoker is hopeful that if we "can help bring some of the thinking that people can do about science into their daily thinking before it gets politicized, before it gets taken over, then we might be able to get people thinking about science in a way that taps into that awe and wonder and gratitude that we saw so often in both the survey and our interviews." 

Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by writer/producer Tavia Gilbert, which features Brie Linkenhoker, PhD,  founder of Worldview Studio, a collective of brain and behavioral scientists, human-centered designers, and multimedia producers who create innovative learning experiences. 

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and host Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.