Oct 2020

Don’t Dumb It Down: The Effects Of Jargon In COVID-19 Crisis Communication

Citations: 14

Shulman, H.C., & Bullock, O.M.



Experts are typically advised to avoid jargon when communicating with the general public, but previous research has not established whether avoiding jargon is necessary in a crisis. Using the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop, this online survey experiment (N = 393) examined the effect of jargon use across three different topics that varied in situational urgency: COVID-19 (high urgency), flood risk (low urgency), and federal emergency policy (control). Results revealed that although the use of jargon led to more difficult processing and reduced persuasion for the two less-urgent topics (flood risk, emergency policy), there was no effect of jargon in the COVID-19 condition. Theoretically, these findings suggest that the motivation to process information is an important moderator for crisis communication in particular and science communication in general. Practically, these findings suggest that science communicators, during times of crisis, do not need to "dumb down" their language in the same way they should during non-crises.

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