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Title: Individual uncertainty and the uncertainty of science: The impact of perceived conflict and general self-efficacy on the perception of tentativeness and credibility of scientific information.
Authors: Flemming, D.
Feinkohl, I.
Cress, U.
Kimmerle, J.
Issue Date: 2015
Abstract: We examined in two empirical studies how situational and personal aspects of uncertainty influence laypeople’s understanding of the uncertainty of scientific information, with focus on the detection of tentativeness and perception of scientific credibility. In the first study (N = 48), we investigated the impact of a perceived conflict due to contradicting information as a situational, text-inherent aspect of uncertainty. The aim of the second study (N = 61) was to explore the role of general self-efficacy as an intra-personal uncertainty factor. In Study 1, participants read one of two versions of an introductory text in a between-group design. This text provided them with an overview about the neurosurgical procedure of deep brain stimulation (DBS). The text expressed a positive attitude toward DBS in one experimental condition or focused on the negative aspects of this method in the other condition. Then participants in both conditions read the same text that dealt with a study about DBS as experimental treatment in a small sample of patients with major depression. Perceived conflict between the two texts was found to increase the perception of tentativeness and to decrease the perception of scientific credibility, implicating that text-inherent aspects have significant effects on critical appraisal. The results of Study 2 demonstrated that participants with higher general self-efficacy detected the tentativeness to a lesser degree and assumed a higher level of scientific credibility, indicating a more naïve understanding of scientific information. This appears to be contradictory to large parts of previous findings that showed positive effects of high self-efficacy on learning. Both studies showed that perceived tentativeness and perceived scientific credibility of medical information contradicted each other. We conclude that there is a need for supporting laypeople in understanding the uncertainty of scientific information and that scientific writers should consider how to present scientific results when compiling pertinent texts.
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