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Marginal Trust in Risk Managers: Building and Losing Trust Following Decisions Under Uncertainty

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*Address correspondence to Mat White, School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AA, UK; tel: +44(0)1752 233154; mathew.white@plymouth.ac.uk.

Abstract

Although a considerable amount of research has examined correlates of baseline public trust in risk managers, much less research has looked at marginal changes in public trust following specific events. Such research is important for identifying what kinds of events will lead to increases and decreases in public trust and thus for understanding how trust is built and lost. Using a taxonomy based upon signal detection theory (SDT), the current article presents two experimental studies examining marginal trust change following eight different types of events. Supporting predictions, cautious decisionmakers who accepted signs of danger (Hits and False Alarms) were more likely to be trusted than those who rejected them (All Clears and Misses). Moreover, transparency about an event was associated with higher levels of marginal trust than a lack of transparency in line with earlier findings. Contrary to predictions, however, trust was less affected by whether the decisions were correct (i.e., Hits and All Clears) or incorrect (i.e., False Alarms and Misses). This finding was primarily due to a “False Alarm Effect” whereby Open False Alarms led to positive increases in trust despite being incorrect assessments of risk. Results are explained in terms of a cue diagnosticity account of impression formation and suggest that a taxonomy of event types based on SDT may be useful in furthering our understanding of how public trust in risk managers is gained and lost.

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