Social Indicators of Trust in an Age of Informational Chaos

How do we decide which experts to trust in digital and physical environments of too much information including false or misleading information? This central question of the PERITIA project is the focal point of a recently published Special Issue in the scientific journal Social Epistemology (A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy). Edited by PERITIA investigators T.Y. Branch and Gloria Origgi, it examines how cues in our social environment, so called social indicators, inform decisions about who to trust.

Drawing on a PERITIA workshop in October 2020, the Special Issue features various articles from PERITIA experts as well as other renown trust researchers across the world. From different (inter-)disciplinary perspectives, ranging from history, science, philosophy of science, science and technology studies, science communication, to social epistemology, the articles describe how people use social indicators of trust, what types of indicators there are, and how they work in society. By studying people’s attitudes, values, and experiences, this issue raises questions about the high expectations generally put on lay publics to trust experts, and thereby challenges normative views about the relationship between science and lay publics, or experts and non-experts. It also examines the structure, role and methods of institutions for social indicators of trust, as well as how social indicators operate in times of crises.

Watch our explainer video that summarizes what social indicators of trust are: cues in our social environment that we use to inform decisions about who to trust.

T.Y. Branch and Gloria Origgi write in their introduction (“Social Indicators of Trust in the Age of Informational Chaos”) that honesty about conflicts of interest of experts is a well known way for people to decide whom to trust. Not always, however, are social indicators that clear and accessible. How do lay publics decide which experts to trust when they lack the competence to evaluate the information provided? What additional information is available and how do they use it to assess expertise?

“(M)any other epistemic cues, like the evidence supporting information from experts, are inaccessible to lay publics. Therefore, lay publics simultaneously use second-order social cues in their environment to inform decisions to trust. These second-order social cues … prevent lay publics from having to trust blindly.” (T.Y. Branch & Gloria Origgi)

Social indicators of trust are used consciously or unconsciously to evaluate an expert’s trustworthiness. Examples for such social indicators of trust can be the position of experts in society, the confidence they show as a speaker, or their influence.

Below we highlight the articles written by investigators of the PERITIA team:

Almost all articles in this Special Issue are available open access on the publisher’s website.