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Shooting the Messenger: How Expert Statements on Stigmatized Populations Negatively Impact Perceived Credibility

Policies regulating individuals convicted of sexual offenses (ICSOs) are widely supported, despite little empirical evidence that they promote public safety. While research suggests this support is unresponsive to counterevidence, the mechanisms underlying these findings ...

Published onJan 09, 2024
Shooting the Messenger: How Expert Statements on Stigmatized Populations Negatively Impact Perceived Credibility
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Abstract

Policies regulating individuals convicted of sexual offenses (ICSOs) are widely supported, despite little empirical evidence that they promote public safety. While research suggests this support is unresponsive to counterevidence, the mechanisms underlying these findings remain unclear. Here we consider whether assessments of an expert’s credibility are impacted by advocating for non-punitive approaches to ICSOs (vs. individuals convicted of drunk driving [ICDDs]), and if these effects carry over to subsequent, unrelated, claims by that expert. Based on a factorial survey experiment with a web-based opt-in panel of US adults, we use structural equation modeling to estimate associations between offense population and the expert source of a claim, perceptions of the expert’s credibility, and subsequent belief. We find that advocating rehabilitation for ICSOs reduces an expert’s credibility compared to advocating similar claims for ICDDs. Respondents subsequently express less belief in that expert’s claim, and this effect carries over to subsequent, unrelated claims.

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