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Source credibility is the believability of a communicator, as perceived by the recipient of the message. Academic studies of this topic began in the 20th century and were given a special emphasis during World War II, when the US government sought to use propaganda to influence public opinion in support of the war effort. Psychologist Carl Hovland and his colleagues worked at the War Department upon this during the 1940s and then continued experimental studies at Yale University. They built upon the work of researchers in the first half of the 20th century who had developed a Source-Message-Channel-Receiver model of communication and, with Muzafer Sherif, developed this as part of their theories of persuasion and social judgement.[1][2][3][4]

There are different elements that may comprise a person's credibility but, according to source credibility theory, the two elements most commonly identified are perceived expertise, and trustworthiness of the source.[5] Source credibility theory research also indicates that the ability to internalize the message is influenced by the potential impact the message has upon the receiver.[5]

Expertise or competence is simply the quality of having a specific range of skill, knowledge, or ability in a specified area.[6] According to communications and speech specialists, Steven A. Beebe, professor of communications studies, and Susan J. Beebe, trustworthiness is characterized as the ability for people to believe a person to be honest.[7]

The area of source credibility is studied for practical applications in communications, marketing, law, and political science.[4][7][8][9]


  1. Michael Brian. An Integrated approach to communication theory and research.
  2. Kalbfleisch, Pamela J. (2003). Communication Yearbook, 297–299.
  3. Hovland, Carl I. (1951). The Influence of Source Credibility on Communication Effectiveness. Public Opinion Quarterly 15 (4): 635–650.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Tellis, Gerald J. (2003). Effective Advertising: Understanding When, How, and Why Advertising Works, SAGE Publications.
  5. 5.0 5.1 (1998) The Handbook of Social Psychology, Oxford University Press.
  6. American Heritage Dictionary, 2006.
  7. 7.0 7.1 (2005) Public Speaking: An Audience Centered Approach (6th edition), Allyn and Bacon Publishers.
  8. Marcus, George E. (1995). With Malice Toward Some: How People Make Civil Liberties Judgments, Cambridge University Press.
  9. Zaller, John R. (1992). The Nature and Originss of Mass Opinion, Cambridge University Press.
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