Demand for Trustworthiness Information from Science Communicators

Demand for Trustworthiness Information from Science Communicators

Author: Leigh Anne Tiffany – Michigan State University, United States


  • John Besley – Michigan State University, United States

During a global pandemic, trusting the scientists sharing health-related information is critical. We use a representative survey (n = 400) to better understand the degree to which Americans want science communicators to share information about scientists’ trustworthiness in the context of COVID-19. We focus on “demand for trustworthiness” information due to a concern that scientists might hesitate to strategically share trustworthiness information (i.e., information that portrays warmth, competence, openness, etc.) because they worry audiences (a) do not want such information or (b) might see such information as manipulative.

The logic underlying the current study is that scientists cannot take their trustworthiness for granted and thus need to consider devoting some effort to (ethically) communicating relevant trustworthiness information. Our sense is that too much of the current science communication literature simply emphasizes identifying trustworthy communicators rather than seeking to cumulatively build trustworthiness beliefs over time.

Descriptively, the data suggest that respondents see communicating a willingness to listen (i.e., openness) as the trust-related objective that science communicators should prioritize most highly; in a hypothetical 60-minute public talk, this is the objective to which they believe scientists should allocate the most time. In fact, respondents saw communicating a willingness to listen as slightly more important than sharing results and risk-benefit information. Respondents gave relatively lower priority to information about integrity and benevolence (i.e., warmth or motivation), but still clearly indicated that scientists should devote some attention to such topics.

Multivariate analyses were of limited value in predicting respondents’ desire for trustworthiness information. Only perceived usefulness of such information was a somewhat consistent and substantive predictor. Demographics, issue concern, and perceived information sufficiency were not consistent predictors. While Americans clearly want trust information, additional work is needed understand what drives this demand.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Time