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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Assessing the credibility of information found on the internet : responses to graphical instantiations of data

  • Author(s): Parris, Julian Lamia
  • et al.

Seeking information is a part of life and evaluating the quality of information is a critical part of every information-seeking act. Information seeking on the Internet is unique because the vetting of information is not routine and alternative sources for information are numerous. Credibility has been shown to be a chief consideration in whether to use information found, but credibility cannot be directly observed but rather is assessed on the basis of both content and the presentation of the content, so called surface-level characteristics of the information. Frameworks describing credibility assessment posit different ways surface-level characteristics affect credibility judgments, distinguishing reflective and heuristics processes. Many surface-level characteristics of web pages have been shown to influence judgments of credibility; of particular interest for this research is the way in which data is presented. Across four experiments 477 subjects participated in simulated Internet information seeking acts in which the presence of certain graphical elements on web pages was manipulated. Some of these elements were instantiations of data, and both tabular and chart forms of data presentation were used. All data presented was already available in the text of the web page. Across the four experiments the context differed: experiments 1 and 2 involved medical information, experiment 3 involved general-purpose information, and experiment 4 involved information presented in an online shopping context. Overall, the effects of graphical instantiations of data were similar to non-data graphical elements when explicit judgments were being made about medical or general information; however, in the context of online shopping, when compared with non-data graphical elements the graphical instantiations of data demonstrated positive effects on credibility and related judgments. The pattern of results across all experiments most strongly supports models of credibility assessment implicating implicit judgment heuristics affecting evaluations of credibility through the aesthetics of the presentation and the associations that graphical instantiations of data have to credible material. These results suggest a particularly strong effect of instantiations of data that are highly aesthetic, suggesting that if one wants information to be believed one has to not just present data, but present data beautifully

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