Gaining trust as well as respect in communicating to motivated audiences about science topics

Susan T. Fiske, Cydney Dupree

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

126 Scopus citations

Abstract

Expertise is a prerequisite for communicator credibility, entailing the knowledge and ability to be accurate. Trust also is essential to communicator credibility. Audiences view trustworthiness as the motivation to be truthful. Identifying whom to trust follows systematic principles. People decide quickly another's apparent intent: Who is friend or foe, on their side or not, or a cooperator or competitor. Those seemingly on their side are deemed warm (friendly, trustworthy). People then decide whether the other is competent to enact those intents. Perception of scientists, like other social perceptions, involves inferring both their apparent intent (warmth) and capability (competence). To illustrate, we polled adults online about typical American jobs, rated as American society views them, on warmth and competence dimensions, as well as relevant emotions. Ambivalently perceived high-competence but low-warmth, "envied" professions included lawyers, chief executive officers, engineers, accountants, scientists, and researchers. Being seen as competent but cold might not seem problematic until one recalls that communicator credibility requires not just status and expertise but also trustworthiness (warmth). Other research indicates the risk from being enviable. Turning to a case study of scientific communication, another online sample of adults described public attitudes toward climate scientists specifically. Although distrust is low, the apparent motive to gain research money is distrusted. The literature on climate science communicators agrees that the public trusts impartiality, not persuasive agendas. Overall, communicator credibility needs to address both expertise and trustworthiness. Scientists have earned audiences' respect, but not necessarily their trust. Discussing, teaching, and sharing information can earn trust to show scientists' trustworthy intentions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13593-13597
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume111
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 16 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Keywords

  • Public images
  • Scientist stereotypes

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