Plain Language Summaries

How can we measure beliefs about science in university students?

In the current societal era of "Fake News" and "alternative facts" knowledge about how science works, trust in science and scientists, and the perceived usefulness of science are repeatedly called into question. However, in many situations, both from the point of view of the individual and from the point of view of society, it would be useful and beneficial if scientific results were included in the decision-making process. For this, positive attitudes towards science are necessary. To study such attitudes, appropriate measurement methods are needed. However, since negative attitudes towards science are not socially desired, there is a risk of biased, untruthful answers when collecting attitudes by questionnaires - especially when students are to be interviewed. Also, data collection methods beyond questionnaires have the potential to capture additional aspects of attitudes.

Person behind circuit board

For this study, we therefore developed indirect measures based on reaction times and compared them with questionnaire measures. In addition, we tested whether reaction-time based measures of implicit attitudes toward science could predict knowledge about how science works over and above questionnaire measures.

IAT Screenshot

The reaction-time based procedure used here (implicit association test, IAT) is based on the basic principle that words must be sorted very quickly into different categories (science or matter of opinion, useful or useless, trustworthy or untrustworthy) by pressing one of two keys in each case. After a series of exercises in which only one category (e.g. Science - Matter of Opinion) is selected at a time, two categories are presented in combination. For example, for science or useless the left button must be pressed and for matter of opinion or useful the right one. Then the combination is changed. In the example, the left key had to be pressed for Science or useful. It should be categorized as quickly and correctly as possible. The difference in reaction times for the various combinations is used to calculate how strongly science is associated with usefulness, for example.


The data show only moderate correlations of the indirect measures with the questionnaire measures. Although this is a new result for attitudes towards science, it is in line with previous experience with other attitudes, that often only very small correlations between questionnaire measures and implicit association measures can be found - obviously different aspects of an attitude are captured. We could also show that there is a correlation of implicit association measures with knowledge. This is also the case when knowledge is additionally predicted by the questionnaire measure. That is, the implicit association measures provide additional information in the prediction of knowledge.

Relevance of the results

Through this study it became clear that implicit association measures are a reliable and valid measure for measuring attitudes towards science. Moreover, they have shown added value compared to a simple questionnaire measure. Our implicit association measures can therefore be used in further research on attitudes towards science to get a more complete picture of the corresponding attitudes. For example, it can be examined which attitudes towards science exist in different groups of the population or which role attitudes towards science have for information behavior on the Internet.

The scientific publication

Schoor, C., & Schütz, A. (2021). Science-utility and science-trust associations and how they relate to knowledge about how science works. PLOS ONE, 16(12), e0260586.

The project

The study was conducted within the project Contexts, which was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).