Communicating trust and trustworthiness through scientists' biographies: Benevolence beliefs

Public Underst Sci. 2024 Feb 18:9636625241228733. doi: 10.1177/09636625241228733. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

A goal of many science communicators is to foster trust in scientists and their work. This study investigates if existing textual resources that scientists create in the course of their regular activities can be improved to enhance perceptions of scientists as trustworthy. Building on Mayer et al.'s integrative model of organizational trust, we examine how communicating benevolence through short biographies can affect trustworthiness perceptions using a 3 (degree of benevolence information: high, unspecified, low) × 3 (research area: crop genetics, corn and soy genetics, biotechnology use) survey design. We find that the degree of benevolence information significantly influences perceptions of benevolence and integrity, as well as willingness to trust, with these effects being consistent across different research areas. However, the degree of benevolence communicated had no significant effect on the perceived competence of the scientists. These findings underscore the importance of highlighting benevolence in communication to positively influence trustworthiness perceptions, thus offering insights for science communication practices.

Keywords: benevolence; goodwill; science communication; trust; trustworthiness; warmth.