“This could be a new approach against the flu…” – References to tentativeness of scientific knowledge and their impact on decision processes

Abstract

People often rely on popular scientific information when seeking advice for health-related issues. In these cases, further usage of such information should be influenced by its presentation. With N = 157 students, we examined how referring to the tentativeness of health information by using hedges and pointing to the origin of scientific knowledge in science-related texts impacts processes of decision-making. We found that decisions were easier to make when there was no indication given. Furthermore, participants’ further use of text-related information was more likely when hedges were used. In contrast, individuals rather relied on their own knowledge when there were no linguistic markers of tentativeness. Additionally, participants’ decisions were more in favor of the direction implied in the texts when no indication of the sources of the science-related information was given. However, no effect of experimental manipulation on the confidence of the decisions exists. Finally, we discuss how the presentation of information may contribute to engaging in critical and elaborated processing of scientific information.


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