When credibility meets celebrity

By Hilary VizelFictional celebrity promoting a product

An expert’s opinion just seems more legit. For the most part, this makes sense. We trust a dietitian to tell us that soda is bad for us, a climatologist to tell us that the ice caps are shrinking and a financial planner to tell us when we’re saving enough for retirement. After all, experts have the qualifications and expertise to suggest they probably know what they’re talking about. And many do. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that our brains take shortcuts in the way we perceive expertise. In one 1996 study published in the British Journal of Nursing, nurses were rated as more authoritative when they wore a stethoscope. Other studies have shown that we tend to also place our trust in other perceived authorities—celebrities. Psychologists call this Messenger Effect. That fit personal trainer with the huge Instagram following? Sure, she has some solid fitness advice, but what happens when she starts shilling unregulated supplements? Because of her perceived authority, we’re more likely to buy into what she’s selling.

Use this knowledge The next time you notice a celebrity promoting a credit card or product take a moment to ask if they’re really a reliable messenger. When possible do your own research. Our tendency to accept information from trusted sources is not a bad thing so long as we don’t let down our critical guard. You can take our word for it. We’re experts on this stuff.

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