Scientists Carry Greater Credibility Than Spiritual Gurus

Summary: Both the majority of religious and non-religious people consider information provided by scientists to be more credible and reliable than information provided by religious leaders, a new study report.

Source: University of Amsterdam

What influence does the source of information have on its credibility? Scientists have more authority than spiritual sources, both among religious and non-religious people. This is apparent from a large-scale experiment conducted by UvA researchers working in an international team. In the experiment, the researchers presented nonsense claims made by both a scientist and a spiritual guru to more than 10,000 subjects from 24 countries.

They describe the universal effect found, which they call the Einstein effect, in a publication that appears in Nature Human Behavior.

The corona crisis has recently brought the subject of the credibility of science to the fore. Does keeping 1.5 meters apart really work? Are vaccinations safe? Does wearing a face mask help? In many cases, the answers to such questions ultimately boil down to who we trust most and consider the most credible authority. Should we take the word of an anti-vaxxer or listen to the national health authorities to guide our beliefs and behaviour regarding the virus?

‘In our research, we looked at the influence that the source of the information has on its credibility, apart from the content of the information itself. We did that with a simple experiment using nonsense claims. They were not about corona, but our findings are also very relevant to the debates around corona,’ says UvA psychologist Suzanne Hoogeveen, who led the study.

Meaningless, but profoundsounding

The 10,195 participants in the experiment were presented with two meaningless but profound-sounding statements: ‘We are called to explore the cosmos itself as an interface between faith and empathy. We must learn how to lead authentic lifes in the face of delusion. It is in refining that we are guided.’ and ‘Yes, it is possible to exterminate the things that can confront us, but not without hope on our side. Turbulence is born in the gap when transformation has been excluded. It is in evolving that we are re-energized.’

One claim was attributed to a scientist and the other to a spiritual guru. Participants were then asked to indicate on a 7-point scale to what extent they found the claims credible. 

Cross-cultural differences

Even the most religious subjects saw the scientist’s claim as more credible than that of the spiritual guru, although the effect was less strong in that group. They found the spiritual guru’s words relatively more credible than the non-religious participants in the experiment.

This is a cartoon of a scientist working in her lab
Scientists have more authority than spiritual sources, both among religious and non-religious people. Image is in the public domain

The effect found was universal; at the same time, there were also differences between countries. For instance, the Dutch participants were the most skeptical about the claims across the board. The difference between credibility of the scientist and the guru was greatest in Turkey and smallest in India, China and Japan.

‘It could be that the relatively smaller effect in Southeast Asia is because the spiritual guru, as presented in the study, is more closely aligned with Eastern belief systems than with the more Western Christian traditions,’ explains Hoogeveen. ‘However, based on our data, we cannot make firm statements about this.’

‘Our findings suggest that regardless of one’s worldview, science is seen worldwide as a powerful indicator of the reliability of information. In these times when there is a lot of talk about skepticism with regard to, for example, climate change and vaccinations, that is hopefully reassuring,’ says Hoogeveen.

About this psychology research news

Author: Laura Erdtsieck
Source: University of Amsterdam
Contact: Laura Erdtsieck – University of Amsterdam
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
The Einstein effect provides global evidence for scientific source credibility effects and the influence of religiosity” by Suzanne Hoogeveen et al. Nature Human Behavior


The Einstein effect provides global evidence for scientific source credibility effects and the influence of religiosity

People tend to evaluate information from reliable sources more favourably, but it is unclear exactly how perceivers’ worldviews interact with this source credibility effect. In a large and diverse cross-cultural sample (N = 10,195 from 24 countries), we presented participants with obscure, meaningless statements attributed to either a spiritual guru or a scientist.

We found a robust global source credibility effect for scientific authorities, which we dub ‘the Einstein effect’: across all 24 countries and all levels of religiosity, scientists held greater authority than spiritual gurus. In addition, individual religiosity predicted a weaker relative preference for the statement from the scientist compared with the spiritual guru, and was more strongly associated with credibility judgements for the guru than the scientist. Independent data on explicit trust ratings across 143 countries mirrored our experimental findings.

These findings suggest that irrespective of one’s religious worldview, across cultures science is a powerful and universal heuristic that signals the reliability of information.

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  1. I’d say tgese days there every bit if not way more Idiological liars. You would have to have an IQ of 80 to believe some of the stuff coming from scientists. I live next door to an Archiologist and tenured professor and gear personally about the endless ridiculousness. This won’t post. Same as in Russia 100 years ago. They tell themselves something and believe it because its what tgey want to believe. The high oxytocin from inbreeding and hate for out groups make tgese people unqualified to lead anything so I’d trust tge wisdom thats in religion in these days way before one eyed scientists garbage. Like how we glide through tge van Allen belt to light fuel on the moon with no oxygen. Everyday I catch things that are complete garbage I can’t believe this is being done to the world.

  2. “Scientists Carry Greater Credibility Than Spiritual Gurus”
    Not everywhere, not by everyone.
    Your research is based on the opinions of individuals you studied. Therefore what you make is an opinion, although well informed, but not a fact.
    And why Should scientists carry greater credibility than gurus? That would be an interesting research.

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