"Would a madman have been so wise as this?" The Effects of Source Credibility and Message Credibility on Validation

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Readers rapidly check new information against prior knowledge during validation, but research is inconsistent as to whether source credibility affects validation. We argue that readers are likely to accept highly plausible assertions regardless of source, but that high source credibility may boost acceptance of claims that are less plausible based on general world knowledge. In Experiment 1, participants read narratives with assertions for which the plausibility varied depending on the source. For high credibility sources, we found that readers were faster to read information confirming these assertions relative to contradictory information. We found the opposite patterns for low credibility characters. In Experiment 2, readers read claims from the same high or low credibility sources, but the claims were always plausible based on general world knowledge. Readers consistently took longer to read contradictory information, regardless of source. In Experiment 3, participants read modified versions of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which was narrated entirely by an unreliable source. We manipulated the plausibility of a target event, as well as whether high credibility characters within the story provided confirmatory or contradictory information about the narrator’s description of the target event. Though readers rated the narrator as being insane, they were more likely to believe the narrator’s assertions about the target event when it was plausible and corroborated by other characters. We argue that sourcing research would benefit from focusing on the relationship between source credibility, message credibility, and multiple sources within a text.