From: Princeton University
Published October 6, 2014 03:58 PM

Does the public trust what scientists say?

If scientists want the public to trust their research suggestions, they may want to appear a bit "warmer," according to a new review published by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The review, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows that while Americans view scientists as competent, they are not entirely trusted. This may be because they are not perceived to be friendly or warm.

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The Wilson School's Susan Fiske finds that scientists have earned the respect of Americans but not necessarily their trust.
In particular, Americans seem wary of researchers seeking grant funding and do not trust scientists pushing persuasive agendas. Instead, the public leans toward impartiality.

"Scientists have earned the respect of Americans but not necessarily their trust," said lead author Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and professor of public affairs. "But this gap can be filled by showing concern for humanity and the environment. Rather than persuading, scientists may better serve citizens by discussing, teaching and sharing information to convey trustworthy intentions."

Fiske has long studied the psychology behind individual intent and motivation. Her research demonstrates that, while expertise is an essential ingredient for credibility, appearing trustworthy is equally as important. Humans are hardwired to detect intent, quickly determining who is friend or foe. And they trust others that seem like themselves, deeming them as warm and trustworthy. Eventually, a person will decide whether the other individual is competent enough to act on their intentions.

Scientists in laboratory image via Shutterstock.

Read more at Princeton Uninversity.

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