To believe or not to believe

Who do you go to in dire times of need? Why do you turn to them? 
It’s most likely because you trust them!

Trust seems to be one of the most highly weighted elements in determining good or effective communication. 
For example, I trust my mother completely and so whatever she tells or teaches me, I believe her (i.e. the message is effectively communicated). When you trust someone, the credibility of the message is naturally established and the message is easily accepted. However, when this trust is broken, communication is hindered. That’s where all the tricky bits come into the place. 

The question is, why causes that trust to be broken? In the case of risk communication, it is because information was concealed or withheld from the receivers of the message and when they do eventually find out, they feel deceived and question the initial intentions of the communicating party. Were they intentionally withholding information to deceive others for self-benefit?

In this article, Leiss talks about risk communication in the context of seeking consensus on health and environmental matters. He also touches on the risk analysis, which consists of risk management, risk assessment and risk communication. He uses a poker game analogy to paint a parallel picture of “bluffing, raising the ante, and calling the perceived bluffs of others are matters of survival, in relation to risk communication. He raises a good point about parties mistrusting one another for very good reasons, which are based on historical experience. As the saying goes, once bitten twice shy.

Having said all that, the public is definitely not as uneducated and foolish to blindly believe everything that is being communicated to them. With the internet, information is so easily assessed and made available to the public, it’s no wonder “bluffs” are always being called.

So, how do you know who and what to believe? Would you believe again in someone who has “deceived” you before?



Leiss W. 1995. “Down and dirty” The use and abuse of public trust in risk communication. Risk Analysis 15(6):685-692.


8 comments so far

  1. keikok on

    I think trust is related to everything in the world.
    I came to University of Western Australia because I trusted Nancy Longnecker as a great science communicator. I’m sharing the house with my friends because I trust them as good people. I buy groceries from the market because I trust the price and the quality of them.

    Answering your question, I can still believe someone again who has lied to me. However, I cannot believe someone who has deceived to me. I mean, I think it depends how big the things are to me. If it was a small lie (promised to meet up at 10am but showed up 10.30am for example), I don’t mind. But if it was huge lie (my best friend stole my boyfriend without telling me for example), I wouldn’t be able to believe her anymore.
    Although, it is really hard to decide which is small and which is big because it also depends on person. What do you think?

    • Jessica Ho on

      Thanks for your comment, Keiko!
      Yes, I do agree that it depends largely on who is involved and what kind of situation it is. In other words, like we discussed in class, everyone’s perception of risk is different because everyone values different things differently. What matters to you most, may not matter to me as much!

      Having said that, I believe value systems are and can be influenced by different cultures, religions, and environment/societies. For example, something that is a norm in one country may not be acceptable/tolerated in another country. However, I feel that on a level of higher authority (for example,governments), on which decisions affect such a large number of people, that the values and principles should generally be the same, as trust is built on these values/principles, isn’t it? (:

  2. Isaura Campbell on

    I do believe that trust is an important aspect when believing information from someone. And you’re right, if my mother told me something, I would believe her. If my younger brother told me something, I would probably trust him as well, but that’s just because I know he’s hopeless at lying with a straight face!
    I understand what you’re saying Keiko – no one likes to be deceived. Also, I know that I am very skeptical about a lot of information the media delivers, or even organizations where the information is ambiguous. I am in the habit now, of questioning the sources of the information. For example the use of “E -numbers” at the back of food packets in the supermarkets, I feel is deceiving because they are not lying directly to the consumer, however they are concealing the true nature of the ingredient, be it harmful or not. It makes me ask what the reason is for hiding the names and therefore has led me to trust certain brands of foods, as they have the names of each ingredient written in a language I understand. I guess if they were written in full, they would take up space, but then they could at least have a chart on the walls of supermarkets letting us know what we are putting into our bodies! This blog made me realize I use trust even when deciding on a meal.

    • Jessica Ho on

      Thanks for your comment, Isaura!
      It is a wonder that trust is unknowingly such a big part of our lives. I suppose it is a good thing to question sources of information as it protects yourself!

      Your example of trust in food brands was a brilliant one. I do believe that your suspicion and skepticism about sources of information could perhaps be a result of a bad experience of being lied to or deceived? In the same way, you develop trust in certain food brands because they didn’t lie or conceal any information from you (i.e they were transparent).
      There is a fine line between the definitions of lying and deceiving, but to me, the intentions of both are the same – wanting you to believe something in a certain way.

      Having said that, we reinforce the point that transparency is important in building/earning trust from people. People usually can see beyond what is said or not said – they look at the intentions. Even if the intentions were good, it is too late as they can only see the intentions in retrospect because information is being concealed from them.

  3. noelynn on

    It is so true that the public is not uneducated to believe all information. They are obliged to believe only if they trust the information source is trustworthy.
    I would not believe someone who has deceived me before.

    A relationship built on trust can stand any mountains. To build such trust requires time, effort, and space. It would cost the deceiver time and credibility to re-build my trust in him or her. Therefore, this place risks in building trust again. I am sure you’ve watched the Lion King movie. How was Simba (baby lion) able to trust Timon (rock lizard or whatever it was) and Pumba (pig)? They had to work hard to convince Simba to trust them.

    So to answer the question! “how do I know who and what to believe?” you need to trust someone or source of information that has credibility and integrity to believe. As it so nicely commented, Nancy has credibility and a person of integrity in UWA so Keiko trusted her to come here.

    • Jessica Ho on

      Thanks for your comment, Noelynn!
      I, too, would not believe someone who has deceived me before. To be less harsh, I would believe them again but not without a second thought or consideration.

      I really like how you say that trust needs space – trust is needed when something is very unfamiliar. On the contrary, if something is very familiar, that would be called confidence instead.

      It is indeed hard to really know who to trust, therefore, trust, in that sense, would require a kind of risk, wouldn’t it? Of course, unless you already have had past experiences to base your decisions on. (:

  4. axl1228 on

    Interesting one!
    Sometimes I really think the world we live in is insane! People trust powerful governor (Hitler), but don’t trust them twice (Putin). People believe that a 27min Hollywood style video clip is true(Kony), but don’t care about how many people died before 21-gun are lit. People believe that the Red Sea was parted by a guy called Moses, but don’t believe that their home will be drown because of themselves.
    We are always deceived, sometimes even betrayed, but we still believe something for different reasons: relationship, religion, culture, power, authority, knowledge, pleasing, etc.
    It’s hard to tell if people are foolish or not. Sometimes trust is just self morale boosting.

    • Jessica Ho on

      Thanks for your comment, Axl!
      It’s indeed strange who people trust and don’t trust, and why. Only goes to show how different each person’s perception is. You’ve got some real good examples there!

      I guess you’re right – trust is even more so needed after you’ve been deceived or let down already, but is always harder to build that trust again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: