The Effect of Linguistic Explicitness and English Language Proficiency on the Credibility of Online Medical Information
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Perceived credibility is important to consumers of online medical information because it frequently forms the basis for making treatment choices. While credibility is important to users around the globe, most medical Web sites have been designed primarily for audiences within specific cultural contexts. Many medical Web sites created by low-context Western institutions may lack the graphics or interactivity that users from high-context Eastern cultures expect, forcing these users to depend on the words of a site for meaning rather than the context of the communicative situation. The Formality/Contextuality continuum model suggests that communicative situations with less context have a greater need for linguistic precision. Moreover, the preference for the level of explicitness has been shown to differ among nonnative users of a second language where those with less proficiency prefer more explicit communications and those with greater proficiency prefer more implicit communications. This exploratory study analyzed the effect of linguistic explicitness in an experimental medical text on the credibility of 102 Japanese Internet users who had different levels of English language proficiency. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions where they read a medical text with one of two levels of explicitness and then answered a survey designed to measure their credibility perceptions. This study added to the theory and practical applications of credibility research by showing that style in the form of explicitness does affect the credibility judgments of online medical information for high-context readers. Participants found the explicit text significantly more credible than the implicit text; however, their English proficiency levels did not appear to affect their credibility perceptions. These results suggest that increasing the explicitness level by increasing the frequency of nouns, adjectives, prepositions, and articles may enrich the context of a text and fill in the communicative gap for nonnative English readers who come from high-context cultures, thus improving their credibility perceptions. More studies should be conducted with larger samples, different types of readers, and other communication media to ascertain how the credibility of online medical information can be enhanced by increasing the explicitness of texts and reducing extraneous cognitive load.