Trust Research

University of Florida researchers are exploring trust across a wide range of academic disciplines. Examples of that research will be regularly spotlighted here.

 Health | Technology | Environment | Government & Politics | Culture & Society | Journalism & Media


This research focuses on trust across the medical field. Areas being studied include the dissemination of cancer misinformation, the study of artificial intelligence in health contexts, how trust in medicine and science vary among communities, the role aging plays in trust-related decisions, disinformation campaigns surrounding vaccinations and COVID-19, and more.

Aging in an “infodemic”: The role of cognition, affect, and experience on news veracity detection during the COVID-19 pandemic

UF Researcher: Dr. Natalie Ebner, Department of Psychology, director of the Ebner Lab.

Increasing misinformation spread, including news about COVID-19, poses a threat to older adults but there is little empirical research on this population within the fake news literature. Embedded in the Changes in Integration for Social Decisions in Aging (CISDA) model, this study examined the role of (i) analytical reasoning; (ii) affect; and (iii) news consumption frequency, and their interplay with (iv) news content, in determining news veracity detection in aging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were randomly assigned to view COVID or non-COVID news articles, followed by measures of analytical reasoning, affect, and news consumption frequency. Comparable across young and older adults, detection accuracy was higher for fake than real news unrelated to COVID, and non-COVID fake news detection was predicted by individual differences in analytic reasoning.

Examination of chronological age effects further revealed that news veracity detection among more elderly older adults depended on interactions between individual CISDA components and news content. Collectively, these findings suggest that age-related vulnerabilities to deceptive news may only be apparent in very old age. Our findings advance understanding of psychological mechanisms in real and fake news evaluation and empirically support CISDA in its application to news veracity detection in aging.

When Trust Is Not Enough: A Serial Mediation Model Explaining the Effect of Race Identity, eHealth Information Efficacy, and Information Behavior on Intention to Participate in Clinical Research

UF Researcher: Dr. Yulia Strekalova, Department of Health Services Research, Management and Policy.

Black participants remain significantly underrepresented in clinical research. Mistrust in medical researchers has been named a key barrier to the successful enrollment of minority study participants. However, trust is a social-interactional construct, and its effects on behavior are complex. This study hypothesized that intention to participate in clinical research is mediated by trust in medical researchers, eHealth literacy, and information seeking behavior. The indirect effect of race identity on behavioral intention was also significant. The positive effect of trust in medical researchers on decisions to participate in clinical research can be amplified by stronger eHealth literacy and active information seeking, which can be supported through focused strategic health education and communication interventions. A focus on the development of information literacy that could provide prospective minority research volunteers with skills for informed decision making should be explored as an option for increasing mindful, informed participation in clinical research among currently underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.


This discipline of research assesses how rapidly changing technologies impact trust as well as the ethics of these technologies. Focus in this area centers on Artificial Intelligence, human-robotics interactions, social media algorithms, and the perceived trustworthiness of AI in informational contexts.

On the Detection of Disinformation Campaign Activity with Network Analysis

UF Researcher Dr. Patrick Traynor, Computer and Information Science and Engineering

Online manipulation of information has become more prevalent in recent years as state-sponsored disinformation campaigns seek to influence and polarize political topics through massive coordinated efforts. In the process, these efforts leave behind artifacts, which researchers have leveraged to analyze the tactics employed by dis- information campaigns after they are taken down. Coordination network analysis has proven helpful for learning about how disinformation campaigns operate; however, the usefulness of these forensic tools as a detection mechanism is still an open question. In this paper, we explore the use of coordination network analysis to generate features for distinguishing the activity of a disinformation campaign from legitimate Twitter activity. Doing so would provide more evidence to human analysts as they consider takedowns. By doing this analysis, we show that while coordination patterns could be useful for providing evidence of disinformation activity, further investigation is needed to improve upon this method before deployment at scale

Trust-Driven Privacy in Human-Robot Interactions

UF Researcher Dr. Matthew T. Hale, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

In this paper we present a trust-driven differential privacy implementation for private trajectory sharing in human-robot interactions. While differential privacy implementations depend on a privacy parameter that is typically set before runtime, there are a number of applications in which human users may not have any information about their robot interaction partners, making it difficult to determine a reasonable privacy level for information sharing. To enable collaboration in scenarios with unfamiliar robots, we dynamically adapt a human user’s privacy level when sending information to a robot by using a quantitative measure of trust. We develop a trust model that reflects a robot’s level of cooperation over time and captures key features of trust from both the psychological and human-robot interaction communities. To characterize our framework and its performance, we quantify the amount of information a robot can gain as a function of its cooperation, and we present bounds on the level of cooperation needed to attain a desired level of trust (and therefore privacy) over time. Simulation results are provided to illustrate this trust-driven private information sharing scheme.


This domain of research examines the relationship between declining trust in science and the environment. Areas being explored include message framing around climate change, communicating scientific findings to audiences with high levels of distrust and the intersection of technology and agriculture, among others.

Talking about climate change: How to enhance trust with forestry audiences

UF Researcher Dr. Martha C. Monroe, School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences

Conducting a climate change presentation or workshop can be uncomfortable for adult educators because they do not want to alienate audiences or diminish their credibility among those who doubt climate change is a problem. Trust in the speaker is a key element for successful communication, and perhaps essential when conveying information about a controversial issue. We review three forest-related workshops, treated as cases, and based on audience responses offer a series of suggestions for building and maintaining trust in the context of climate change programming.

The legacy of lead pollution: (dis)trust in science and the debate over Superfund

UF Researcher Dr. Alison E. Adams, School of Forest, Fisheries and Geomatics Sciences

Lead contamination is a significant health hazard in communities around the world, but this environmental toxin often remains unknown to residents living near hazardous sites. This research investigates a unique case where residents were informed of lead contamination but rejected official and scientific narratives regarding environmental risks. The case study involves a decommissioned smelter in Colorado. Drawing from data collected over three years, the researchers examine how officials and experts communicated the severity of environmental health hazards. Despite these efforts, residents opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempts to place the site on the National Priorities List for federal cleanup. The government’s framing of science and environmental risk failed to resonate with homeowners, despite the known and significant scientific evidence confirming environmental health hazards, and residents’ perceptions of lead contamination were mitigated by material concerns, including property values and community stigma. Implications for future research on lead contamination, environmental risk, and trust in science are discussed.

Government & Politics

This body of research investigates the degree to which trust in government has eroded and what relationship it has with political polarization. Studies are being conducted on how gender and sexism affect the perception of political candidates, the effects of partisan media use, the depth of institutional mistrust, the rise of disinformation campaigns for political gain, and more.

Why People Turn to Institutions They Detest: Institutional Mistrust and Justice System Engagement in Uneven Democratic States

UF Researcher Dr. Juliana Restrepo Sanin, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Does political mistrust lead to institutional disengagement? Much work in political science holds that trust matters for political participation, including recourse to the justice system. Scholars of judicial institutions, relying largely on survey research, argue that low trust decreases legal compliance and cooperation, threatening the rule of law. Legal consciousness and mobilization scholars, meanwhile, suggest that trust does not drive justice system engagement. However, their single-case study approach makes assessing the wider implications of their findings difficult. Based on an innovative comparative focus-group study in two uneven democratic states, Chile and Colombia, we show that trust is not the primary factor driving justice system engagement. Rather, people’s engagement decisions are shaped by their expectations and aspirations for their political system and by their politically constructed capacities for legal agency. Our study offers insights of relevance for analysts of various forms of political participation in uneven democratic states across the globe.

WHOSE ISSUE IS IT ANYWAY . . . AND DOES IT REALLY MATTER? Issue Ownership and Negative Campaigning

UF Researcher Dr. Stephen C. Craig, Department of Political Science

Although academic research has yielded mixed results, candidates and consultants are rational people whose experience persuades them that “going negative” can be an effective campaign strategy under the right circumstances. And they are almost certainly right, even if their evidence is more anecdotal than systematic. This article considers whether the impact of negative ads is moderated by perceptions of issue ownership, a factor that is known to affect the candidate preferences of some voters. Focusing on the attitudes of those who identify with the party of the targeted candidate, we examine the changes in support and favorability induced by four policy-based attacks against a hypothetical congressional incumbent seeking reelection. Results from an Internet survey experiment suggest that attacks are somewhat more effective among target co-partisans who do not believe that their party is more competent to handle the issue in question, especially when that issue is salient to the individual.

Culture & Society

This collection of research centers on how trust intersects with our society and culture. The topics discussed span from the way we communicate with one another, to mistrust within communities, to our biases, the way we interpret information, and the impact of social media.

In the shoes of George Zimmerman: the impact of promotion of mistrust, subcultural diversity and fear of crime on expected personal reactions

UF Researcher Dr. Jodi Lane, Sociology and Criminology & Law

In February 2012, George Zimmerman, a Hispanic man, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen, after encountering Martin walking in a hoodie in the rain in his neighborhood. A media frenzy followed, focusing on the racial differences between the two and the possible injustice of the incident. A key legal and public question was whether Zimmerman was acting in self-defense or based on racial stereotypes. Based in the fear of crime and racial socialization literature, this study examines the impacts of racial socialization, fear of crime, and subcultural diversity on university students’ expected reactions to an incident very similar to the Zimmerman–Martin encounter. We find that the race of the person encountered is not a significant predictor of how these university students expected to respond. In addition, while fear of crime and subcultural diversity also fail to reach significance, promotion of mistrust of other races is related in this sample to willingness to pull a gun and shoot one. Given the policy and public significance of behavioral reactions to crime, we call for much more research before making conclusions about the impact of racial differences and mistrust on how people might react in potentially threatening situations.

Too Much Information, Too Little Time: How the Brain Separates Important from Unimportant Things in Our Fast-Paced Media World

UF Researcher Dr. Andreas Keil, Department of Psychology

Wait. What? Often, we miss something that we wanted to see, hear, or feel—especially when there is a lot of information competing for our attention. We mostly notice this problem when we try to make the brain process lots of information at high speed. Imagine for instance that you are playing a video game and browsing the internet while checking text messages on your phone. Here, we look at how neuroscientists (scientists who study the brain and behavior) answer questions about information that comes at us very quickly: What draws our attention? How does paying attention to one thing affect how we see other things? How long does it take to notice and remember something important? Neuroscientists have found that the brain uses a trick to pay attention to one thing in a rapid stream, but it comes at a cost. Also, what we want to pay attention to is often not what we end up noticing, despite our best efforts.

Journalism & Media

The scope of this topic focuses on deterioration of trust in news and journalism. This body of research investigates a wide range of issues, including media literacy, the impact of misogyny on the credibility of female journalists, perceived bias in news coverage, the politicization of news consumption, and solutions for restoring public trust in journalism.

Read All About It: The Politicization of “Fake News” on Twitter

UF Researcher Dr. Marcia DiStasio, College of Journalism and Communications

Due to the importance of word choice in political discourse, this study explored the use of the term “fake news.” Using a social network analysis, content analysis, and cluster analysis, political characteristics of online networks that formed around discussions of “fake news” were examined. This study found that “fake news” is a politicized term where conversations overshadowed logical and important discussions of the term. Findings also revealed that social media users from opposing political parties communicate in homophilous environments and use “fake news” to disparage the opposition and condemn real information disseminated by the opposition party members.

When consumers learn to spot deception in advertising: testing a literacy intervention to combat greenwashing

UF Researcher Dr. Juliana Fernandes, College of Journalism and Communications

Greenwashing is a major advertising issue that has negative implications for consumers, the green product market, and the environment. Consumers cannot distinguish between acceptable and deceptive environmental claims, a belief that the findings of this research confirms. This underscores the need to educate consumers about environmental claims. Findings from five studies demonstrate that a literacy intervention combining textual and visual elements that distinguish acceptable from deceptive green claims helps consumers spot deception. In turn, consumers use this knowledge when responding to product messages. Implications for theory, policy makers, advertisers, and consumers are discussed.