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Emotion. 2018 Dec 27. doi: 10.1037/emo0000545. [Epub ahead of print]

Clear judgments based on unclear evidence: Person evaluation is strongly influenced by untrustworthy gossip.

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Department of Psychology.


Affective information about other people's social behavior may prejudice social interactions and bias person judgments. The trustworthiness of person-related information, however, can vary considerably, as in the case of gossip, rumors, lies, or "fake news." Here, we investigated how spontaneous person likability and explicit person judgments are influenced by trustworthiness, employing event-related potentials as indices of emotional brain responses. Social-emotional information about the (im)moral behavior of previously unknown persons was verbally presented as trustworthy fact (e.g., "He bullied his apprentice") or marked as untrustworthy gossip (by adding, e.g., allegedly), using verbal qualifiers that are frequently used in conversations, news, and social media to indicate the questionable trustworthiness of the information and as a precaution against wrong accusations. In Experiment 1, spontaneous likability, deliberate person judgments, and electrophysiological measures of emotional person evaluation were strongly influenced by negative information yet remarkably unaffected by the trustworthiness of the information. Experiment 2 replicated these findings and extended them to positive information. Our findings demonstrate a tendency for strong emotional evaluations and person judgments even when they are knowingly based on unclear evidence. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).


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