The impact of article title on the interpretation of scientific research: a randomized trial

  • Marica Barać University of Split School of Medicine, Split, Croatia
  • Ivan Buljan Department of Research in Biomedicine and Health, University of Split School of Medicine, Split, Croatia; Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Split, Split, Croatia
Keywords: health literacy, health information, information translation, randomized trial, research articles, scientific literacy


Aims: Interpretation and comprehension of the available health information may be a difficult task for the public, since previous studies have shown that understanding scientific articles can be difficult for lay people. This study aimed to determine whether title incongruence with the conclusions of the study affects readers’ interpretation and understanding of the read content.

Methods: We conducted a randomized trial via an online survey using abbreviated summaries of two scientific articles (named “Breakfast” and “Music” trial groups), each of which had a title congruent or incongruent with the conclusion. The participants were adults (n=283), women (81.6%), aged over 30 (53.7%) and with higher education (77.4%); 149 participants took part in the “Breakfast” group, and 134 participants took part in the “Music” group. The primary outcome was text comprehension measured by a correct answer to the question about the conclusion in the summaries.

Results: In both trial groups, we found no differences in answer to the questions about whether the title was congruent or incongruent with the conclusion of the summaries. In the “Breakfast” group, an essential predictor factor for a correct answer was a higher score on knowledge dimensions, while in the “Music” group correct answer predictors, except higher scores on knowledge dimensions, were family physician and search of domestic health websites as sources of health information. Finally, the knowledge score was the only predictor in the overall logistic regression model, where data from both groups was merged (Cox & Snell R2=0.32).

Conclusion: The title does not affect making of conclusions based on scientific information, which means that people rely on the read article content or some other part of the article other than the title itself. 

Trial registration:

Research Articles