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The Function of Credibility in Information Processing for Risk Perception

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This study examines how credibility affects the way people process information and how they subsequently perceive risk. Three conceptual areas are brought together in this analysis: the psychometric model of risk perception, Eagly and Chaiken's heuristic-systematic information processing model, and Meyer's credibility index. Data come from a study of risk communication in the circumstance of state health department investigations of suspected cancer clusters (five cases, N= 696 ). Credibility is assessed for three information sources: state health departments, citizen groups, and industries involved in each case. Higher credibility for industry and the state directly predicts lower risk perception, whereas high credibility for citizen groups predicts greater risk perception. A path model shows that perceiving high credibility for industry and state—and perceiving low credibility for citizen groups—promotes heuristic processing, which in turn is a strong predictor of lower risk perception. Alternately, perceiving industry and the state to have low credibility also promotes greater systematic processing, which consistently leads to perception of greater risk. Between a one-fifth and one-third of the effect of credibility on risk perception is shown to be indirectly transmitted through information processing.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2003


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