LEARNING ABOUT A CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE: Evidence that experts’ opinion is influential and frequently chosen by general public

In recent years, there has been much discussion about anti-intellectualism and the ‘death of expertise’. Alleged mistrust of experts may have given rise to public ignorance of their opinions, especially when it concerns controversial issues. Yet scientific evidence on this matter is lacking, at least from economic experiments.

New research provides some grounds for optimism: individuals update their beliefs more in response to information about ethnic discrimination from scientists and practitioners compared with the same information from ordinary people.

The message from experts is also frequently preferred over the message from ordinary people. At the same time, regardless of a source that provides information about ethnic discrimination, individuals’ perception of ethnic minorities remains unchanged.

The research is based on a survey experiment conducted with a large nationally representative sample (n=3,216) in the Czech Republic. The study explores whether people mostly choose to consult a source that causes the strongest updating of beliefs about discrimination. 

To elicit individuals’ beliefs about local labour market discrimination, the study exploits the approach introduced by Haaland and Roth (2019). Specifically, subjects are asked how many applications on average a jobseeker with an Asian-sounding name has to send to receive one interview invitation. Individuals know that the corresponding number for a person with a Czech-sounding name is 7.5 applications based on research by Bartoš et al (2016).

The combination of two following design features distinguishes this study from previous research: 

  • Providing three random subsets of individuals with the average estimate of one of three sources – ordinary people, practitioners and researchers – regarding the number of applications an Asian person has to send for one interview invitation. Using the procedure similar to what other researchers have done, the study shows participants the same average estimate based on real data to cleanly identify the effect of an information source per se. 
  • Giving a separate random subset of individuals an opportunity to acquire information about discrimination from one of three information sources.


Individuals significantly update their beliefs about ethnic discrimination in response to receiving relevant information, especially when they see the message from experts (see Figure 1).

Obtaining the ordinary people’s estimate shifts beliefs on average by 0.69 applications, which represents a 75% increase compared to the mean change in beliefs among those who receive irrelevant information. The corresponding numbers for individuals who are exposed to either the practitioners’ estimate or researchers’ estimate make up 2.25 applications and 1.73 applications, respectively. 

Individuals tend predominantly to choose sources that are most influential in terms of affecting their beliefs (Figure 2). Specifically, they favour the experts’ average estimate of ethnic discrimination against Asians in 70% of cases while the respective average estimate of ordinary people is favoured in 23% of cases. 

Figure 1 Posterior beliefs about labour market discrimination against Asians



Figure 2 Preferred information sources


Source: Korlyakova (2020)


Although information induces people to revise their beliefs about the extent of local discrimination against Asians, it does not affect self-reported attitudes toward this ethnic minority. Consistent with this result, informed individuals donate to a local pro-Vietnamese charity at similar rates as their uninformed counterparts. 

These findings have implications for information dissemination policies. If the goal of an information campaign is to solely raise awareness about the prevalence of local ethnic discrimination, sharing an opinion of practitioners or academic experts could contribute to higher campaign effectiveness. If a campaign aims instead to improve attitudes to ethnic minorities, correcting people's misperceptions about the extent of discrimination against these minorities could be insufficient or even irrelevant. 



Bartoš, V., Bauer, M., Chytilová, J., & Matějka, F. (2016). Attention discrimination: Theory and field experiments with monitoring information acquisition. American Economic Review, 106(6), 1437-75.

Haaland, I., & Roth, C. (2019). Beliefs about racial discrimination and support for pro-black policies. CESifo Working Paper No. 7828.


Darya Korlyakova