Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Undergrads Will Believe Anything. If it's Well Written

Scientific American is reporting on a study examining the credibility of pseudonymous bloggers.
Chesney and Su gave 269 undergraduate students – 182 in the UK, 87 in Malaysia - a fake story chronicling a blogger's discovery of, and subsequent battle with, nail fungus (ew?). The posts were identical except for the blogger's biographical information running along the top. Here, the researchers had three types of bio: 1) a pseudonym only 2) a pseudonym, age, and sex, or 3) the blogger's “real” name, age, sex, email address and photograph.
Each blogger was graded by the students on criteria such as trustworthiness and credibility. The authors of the study found that fully-identifiable bloggers were rated no better than their pseudonymous counterparts. Of course, as the SciAm piece points out, it could just be that bloggers in general have such low credibility that adding a real name and a photo just doesn't help. And while the results seem to support the idea that pseudonymous bloggers have just as much (perceived) credibility as RealName bloggers, it says nothing of other potential anti-pseud arguments - like the ease with which one can be an unbridled asshole when there is no fear of repercussion. We're fine with that though, since what's the point of being a pseudonymous asshole when nobody believes you?

The study also looked at the effect of presentation on perceived credibility.
This time respondents were shown one of two blog posts which conveyed exactly the same information and revealed exactly the same information about the blogger. One post introduced a number of spelling/grammar/punctuation errors.
In this case, the well-written posts were graded higher than those riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. So if you're going to be posting BS online, make sure it's well-written if you want people to believe it. (That's been my secret all along)

Of course, the real moral of the story is that undergrads will believe anything, as long as you run it through spell check.

One thing to note, though, is that the study seemed to use personal blog-type entries, like those you might find in an online diary. Science or medical blog posts, where credentials could add certain weight to delivered information, may be graded differently when it comes to pseudonymous credibility. That would be an interesting study to see, but one that wouldn't affect the Bayblab since our posts are so well-written they've got to be true.