UBC study finds judgement of researchers' credibility influenced by beliefs about race and gender

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      Previous studies have found that several characteristics which have no relationship to a researcher's qualifications do influence the perception of credibility, including physical attractiveness, age, and demographic similarity to the observer.

      While past research has discovered that race and gender also influence judgments about credibility, the results were not uniform among studies.

      A new study by the UBC School of Business has determined that ideological beliefs and status characteristics (race, gender, caste) do have an impact upon the judgment of researcher credibility.

      The study, "What Makes Professors Appear Credible: The Effect of Demographic Characteristics and Ideological Beliefs", will be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

      “People might believe in the merits of research, but biases can still overpower logic and prevent people from evaluating scholars objectively,” UBC Sauder professor and study co-author Karl Aquino.

      A series of five studies involved over 900 participants in Canada, the U.S., and India to read research reports that included photos of researchers. Afterward, they asked participants, whose ideologies from egalitarian to elitist were gauged, to evaluate the credibility of those researchers.  

      The study found that strong commitment to either elitist or egalitarian beliefs both result in favouritism. When taken to extremities, both groups can demonstrate discrimination. Those with an elitst view tended to judge white male researchers as more credible while egalitarians tended to view women or people of colour as more qualified.

      “Elitists and egalitarians are equally susceptible to evaluating people in ways that reinforce their beliefs,” Aquino stated. “In the business world, the statements made by academic experts can influence decisions, so it’s vital to be aware of how ideology influences whether people believe what comes from the mouth of an academic.”

      However, the study did also find a solution. The researchers discovered that specific status cues signaling academic competence, such as job relevant experience, specialized degrees, or awards, can neutralize the effects of biased judgment.