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

Edited by Baruch Fischhoff, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, and accepted by the Editorial Board April 3, 2014 (received for review October 31, 2013)
September 15, 2014
111 (supplement_4) 13593-13597

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.

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Acknowledgments

The illustrative research was supported by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Communicating Uncertainty Project. C.D. was supported by a National Science Graduate Fellowship and the Princeton Joint Degree Program in Psychology and Social Policy.

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 111 | No. supplement_4
September 16, 2014
PubMed: 25225372

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Submission history

Published online: September 15, 2014
Published in issue: September 16, 2014

Keywords

  1. public images
  2. scientist stereotypes

Acknowledgments

The illustrative research was supported by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Communicating Uncertainty Project. C.D. was supported by a National Science Graduate Fellowship and the Princeton Joint Degree Program in Psychology and Social Policy.

Notes

This paper results from the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, “The Science of Science Communication II,” held September 23–25, 2013, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. The complete program and video recordings of most presentations are available on the NAS website at www.nasonline.org/science-communication-II.
This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. B.F. is a guest editor invited by the Editorial Board.
*Sevillano V, Fiske ST, Perceived Dimensions of Animals. Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Meeting, January 17–19, 2013, New Orleans, LA.

Authors

Affiliations

Susan T. Fiske1 [email protected]
Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544
Cydney Dupree
Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544

Notes

1
To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: [email protected].
Author contributions: S.T.F. designed research; C.D. performed research; C.D. analyzed data; S.T.F. reviewed persuasion literature; C.D. reviewed communicating climate change; and S.T.F. and C.D. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Gaining trust as well as respect in communicating to motivated audiences about science topics
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 111
    • No. supplement_4
    • pp. 13583-13671

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