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Altenmüller, Marlene Sophie ORCID: 0000-0002-1714-3601; Lange, Leonie Lucia; Gollwitzer, Mario ORCID: 0000-0003-4310-4793 (2021): When research is me-search. How researchers’ motivation to pursue a topic affects laypeople’s trust in science.
In: PLOS ONE 16(7) , pp. 1-19
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Research is often fueled by researchers’ scientific, but also their personal interests: Sometimes, researchers decide to pursue a specific research question because the answer to that question is idiosyncratically relevant for themselves: Such “me-search” may not only affect the quality of research, but also how it is perceived by the general public. In two studies (N = 621), we investigate the circumstances under which learning about a researcher’s “me-search” increases or decreases laypeople’s ascriptions of trustworthiness and credibility to the respective researcher. Results suggest that participants’ own preexisting attitudes towards the research topic moderate the effects of “me-search” substantially: When participants hold favorable attitudes towards the research topic (i.e., LGBTQ or veganism), “me-searchers” were perceived as more trustworthy and their research was perceived as more credible. This pattern was reversed when participants held unfavorable attitudes towards the research topic. Study 2 furthermore shows that trustworthiness and credibility perceptions generalize to evaluations of the entire field of research. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.