Open Journal of Philosophy
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 112-115
Published Online May 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Source Credibility: A Philosophical Analysis
Bonachrist us Umeogu
Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
Email: ojiakor99@y
Received February 14th, 2012; re vised March 16th, 2012; accepted March 29th, 2012
It is one thing to catch someone’s attention and another thing to hold it for as long as the speaker desires.
There must be something about those leaders and speakers who have been able to achieve this feat. The
secret is source credibility which arises from how the public view or perceive a speaker. This research
paper explaines the role of this important virtue in relation to advertisements, politics and religions. This
paper is timely and significant because the most difficult form of management is human and mind man-
agement. The key is to be seen as a credible source. How is that possible?
Keywords: Ethos; Politics; Religion; Celebrity Advertising
Have you bothered to que stion why people prefer one speaker
to another? Have you witnessed a situation where worshippers
lose interest in the day’s service because a certain desired
speaker is not the officiating priest? Have you ever experienced
listening to a speaker on televisi on and would not want to chan ge
the channel even when what he/she is saying makes little or no
sense to you? The reason for the above scenario is source credi-
bi li ty and trustworthiness.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle understood this virtue and
contextualized it by calling it ethos. Credibility and trustwor-
thiness is a virtue that should be sought after by all and sundry
regardless of age. These two virtues go hand in hand because
there cannot be a basis of trust when one is not seen as credible.
Without this quality, how can one make and keep friends? How
can there be a relationship between man and wife? How can
there be a religious organization when the members do not see
the leader(s) as credible? How? How? How? It is now obvious
that credibility transcend all facets of life cutting across religion,
politics, family, advertising and what have you.
This paper having understood the logic of source credibility
seeks to explain the concept of source credibility vis-à-vis poli-
tics, advertising and religion. What roles do being seen as a
credible source play in the above mentioned areas? How far
were they able to effectively pull off their roles? All these were
explored in this paper.
Explication of Terms
By way of definition, source credibility can be seen as a
situation where message believability is dependent on the
credibility status of the sender in the minds and eyes of the
receivers. Academic studies of the topic is said to have begun in
the twentieth century and were given a special emphasis during
the World War II when the Unites States government thought to
use propaganda and mind management to influence public
opinions in support of war efforts. The United States govern-
ment employed early theoretical models of source credibility in
creating the Committee on Public Information (CPI). It was an
ambitious attempt to moul d public opini ons on an unpreced en t ed
Basically, CPI was primarily concerned with formulating
principles that will aid effective communication so as to have
the desired effect on the receivers. It also encouraged targeted
publics to participate in the war effort through a variety of gov-
ernment programs, making them stakeholders in their govern-
ment and increasing their sense of community. (Pinkerton,
1994 in Cornan et al., 2006)
In the course of this research, it was learnt that source credi-
bility theory sprung out from the war department as a result of
researches by Hovland and others, to test the communication
processes that messages pass through from the source to the
receiver. This source-message-receiver model is all that com-
munication is about.
Aristotelian Theory on Source Credibility
The concept of source credibility was developed by Aristotle
in a text of his works, called The Rhetoric. From the book, it
became evident that Aristotle divided the means of persuasion
into three categories: ethos, logos and pathos.
According to Aristotle, the rhetorician ethos plays the most
important role in influencing the audiences thought and beliefs.
It is what makes the speaker in the first place. Such an ethos
implies the communicators’ knowledge and understanding of
the message coupled with moral authority and expressed good-
will of the message sender. This is where understanding and
perceived expertise comes into play. It is the known contribut-
ing factor for the credibility and trust vested in the communi-
cator. Baudhin and Davis (1972), and McCroskey (1958) con-
curred also affirms that the communicator’s ethos plays an
essential role in effectively persuading message receivers.
Source Credibility Theory
The source credibility theory as propounded by Hovland, Ja-
nis and Kelly (1963) stated that people or receivers are more
likely to be persuaded when the source presents itself as credi-
ble. Furthermore, Hovland (1963) and Weiss (1974) later stud-
ied the influence of sources in persuasion. The study was done
by comparing credible and non-credible sources using same
persuasive message to test if the sources seen as credible could
influence opinions change in the message receivers more than
the non-credible source. The study confirmed the assumption
that credible sources tend to create the desired impact on the
On a similar note, McCroskey et al. (1974), submitted that
communicators with high credibility in the eyes of message
receivers tend to have respect and their words are accepted
more readily. Also, middle Brook’s findings (1974) showed
that differences in receivers attitudes have a bearing to source
credibility. There is obvious uniformity in communication
theories that message receivers relate source credibility to the
communicator’s favorable character or ethos that emits knowl-
edge, moral standards and goodwill towards the message re-
ceivers. That is, favorable senders’ ethos equals credibility and
Be that as it may, there are two most commonly visible ele-
ments which positively influence source credibility and they are:
perceived expertise and trustworthiness of the source. Com-
menting on this is Cornan et al. (2006), who submitted that
three key dimensions of credibility: trustworthiness,
competence, and goodwill. These three dimensions are not
empirical realities but perceptions that can be created, man-
aged, and cultivated. This requires a coordinated approach
to message design, delivery, and—most importantly—ad-
aptation to the given audience and current media situation.
This will now be explored in advertising, politics and relig-
Source Credibility and Advertising
Have you bothered to question why companies spend huge
amount of money to sign endorsement deals with models and
celebrities all in the name of advertising purposes? The reason
is that these models, stars and celebrities have assumed a role
model status in the eyes of the consumers who on a daily basis
aspire to be like them. If they reveal the name of a particular
scent that they prefer to feel “sexy”, then that revelation alone
is enough to become the hand of Midas that will turn that par-
ticular product into gold. That should explain the relationship
between source credibility and the product attractiveness which
mostly translates into higher sa les.
How do we see credibility in the world of advertising? As
have been stated earlier in the course of this paper,
Credibility refers to a person’s perception of the truth of a
piece of information. It is a multi-dimensional concept that
serves as a means for the receiver of the information to rate the
source or transmitter of the communication in relation to the
information. This rating correlates with the willingness of the
receiver to attribute truth and substance to the information
(Hovland et al., 1953 in Eisend, 2006).
Credibility is all about the tendency to believe or trust
someone with little or no doubt of being deceived or manipu-
lated. Faith, trust, love and objectivity are all rolled up in one
Before exploring further, who are celebrities? Schlecht (2003)
defines “celebrities as people who enjoy public recognition by
a large share of a certain group of people. I want to add that
they are people who have excelled in their chosen careers and
consequently have gained public awareness, recognition and
approval. They include actors/actresses like Olu Jacobs, Brad
Pitt, Tom Cruise, Genevieve Nnaji; artistes like Tu face,
D’Banj, P-Square, Celine Dion, Eminem, Beyonce Knowles;
comedians in the person of Basket mouth; talkshow hosts like
Oprah, Dr Phil; sports athletes like Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwan-
kwo, Michael Jordan, Venus and Serena Williams etc.
Like the proverbial goldfish that has no hiding place, they are
always in the face of the camera and thereby always up for
public scrutiny regardless of wherever they find themselves.
Advertisers cash in on this fact to promote their products and
services. In other words, they act as spokespersons as regards
advertising to promote goods and services, (Kambitsis et al.,
2002, Tom et al., 1992 in Schlecht, 2003). For instance, at red
carpets events, reporters and fans are always eager to know the
name of the designers of the clothes and footwears they are
putting on. No matter how ridiculous the outfit looks, as long as
it is good enough for a celebrity, then it is automatically vetoed
(well, in exception of the fashion police and fashion court that
criticizes the celebrity’s looks and outrageous outfits).
Use of celebrity is understandable in as much consumers
readily identify with these stars, often regarding them as heroes
and heroines for their accomplishments, personalities, and
physical appeal. (Shimp, 2000: p. 332). The fondness of using ce-
lebrities is because of their famous attributes-including courage,
talent, athleticism, grace, power and sex appeal. These often
represent the attractions desired for the brand they endorse. By
association, consumers often prefer those brands owing to the
conception that it helps in shaping that celebrity; helps in de-
fining his/her style.
However, source credibility in advertising is also influenced
by source attractiveness. The more attractive a celebrity looks,
the more likely consumers are to buy whatever he/she is selling.
In other words, the level of appeal to the eyes influences the
impact on buying behaviors, brand preferences and attitudinal
changes. In the words of Shimp (2000),
attractiveness exceeds physical attractiveness to include
intellectual skills, personality properties, lifestyle charac-
teristics, athletic prowess and so on.
Empirical evidence suggests the notion that physically at-
tractive endorsers or models tend to produce more fa-
vourable evaluation of advertisements and advertised
products than do less attractive endorsers.
Though, I must add that the effectiveness is heightened when
the endorser’s image is compatible with the nature of the en-
dorsed product.
Another factor that positively or negatively affects source
credibility in relation to advertising and celebrity endorsements
is the “match up” or a fitting relationship between the spokes-
person and the product. What do I mean? Celebrity status will
have little or no role to play if a vegetarian celebrity is used to
advertise beef products; non smokers to advertise cigarettes; or
to use a dark complexioned celebrity to advertise a toning or
lightening cream. Contextualizing this, Hill & Busler 1998 in
Schlecht (2003) explains that
the match up hypothesis specifically suggest that the effec-
tiveness depends on the existence of a “fit” between the celeb-
rity spokesperson and endorsed brand.
Shrimp (2000) went a step further to state that it is not
enough for there to exist a relationship between the model and
the product. To aid believability, there ought to be a meaningful
relationship or match up, between the celebrity, the audience,
and the product. In other words, there ought to be a significant
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 113
connection between the model and the product or service as the
case may be. This time around, the “who” and “what” is not
enough to cover the f itting.
Another factor that affects credibility is expertise and trust-
worthiness. Here, the fact that you are a celebrated person is not
enough to influence consumer’s attitudes. According to Shimp
two important properties of endorsers’ credibility are ex-
pertise and trustworthiness. Expertise refers to the knowl-
edge, experience, or skills possessed by an endorser as
they relate to the communication topic.
An example is a mother (celebrity or not) endorsing mother
care products. There is the tendency to see the source as credi-
ble because as a mother, she knows what a mother generally
Trustworthiness according to Shimp (2000) refers to the
honesty and believability of a source. An endorser’s trustwor-
thiness depends primarily on the audience’s perception of his or
her endorsement motivations. If the audience believes that an
endorser is motivated purely by self interest, he or she will be
less persuasive than an audience perceives as having nothing to
gain by endorsing the product or as being completely objective.
It all boils down to presenting oneself before, during, and af-
ter the campaign as honest, believable and dependable.
Relationship between Source Credibility
and Politics
There appears to be some acceptance of the belief that the
characteristics of a communicator influence an audience’s re-
ception of a message. This belief affects not only the use of
testimonials for commercial advertising but also the choice of
endorsers for political candidates and social causes. Research-
ers have found that sources having more of the credibility di-
mensions induce greater attitude change immediately than do
sources having less of those dimensions, Dhokolia (1987).
In politics and public administratio n, c redibility and charisma
seems to have become a highly sought-after quality and virtue.
What role does source credibility play with regards to politics?
For a start, what is it about Obama that made Americans to vote
for a black man? For some, it is as a result of his confident and
credible appearance; for a few, it is about his organized and
coordinated campaign plan; while for those who understood the
rules of the game, it is about “additional performative qualities
that includes things like rhetoric, timing, appropriateness, cha-
risma, eloquence, respon siveness and vision” (www.primo -eu r op .
eu) .
To answer how he was able to achieve that feat; I quote the
words of Aristotle in Teven (2008) which reads thus:
More than 2500 years ago, Aristotle espoused that the
source of a message contributes to the persuasiveness of
that message. Credibility is the image of the source in the
minds of receivers. This is what Aristotle calls the sou rce ’s
ethos and explains that it is the source’s most potent
means of persuasion.
According to Aristotle, ethos plays the most important role in
influencing the audiences’ thought and beliefs. Such an ethos
implies the communicators’ knowledge and understanding of
the message coupled with moral authority and expressed good-
will of the message sender. It is the known contributing factor
for the credibility and trust vested in the communicator.
Also writing on the role of source credibility in political
communication context, Richmond & McCroskey 1975 in Te-
ven (2008) states that “credibility is a critical factor in the se-
lection of opinion leaders”. The source credibility boots candi-
date’s image which is a major determinant in voters’ behav-
iours and candidates’ selection. In other words, the success or
failure of any political campaign or endeavor depends on how
credible the voters perceive the candidate to be.
While expertise and trustworthiness affects credibility in ad-
vertising, source credibility in politics consists of competence,
trustworthiness, and goodwill. Here, competence shoots out
from expertise because one cannot claim to be competent in an
area where you are a novice. The electorates need someone
who looks competent enough to steer the train of government
through murky waters.
Despite the components of goodwill, competence and trust-
worthiness, I assert that the keyword is all about charisma and
presentation. How were you able to convince the electorates
that you empathize with them? How are you able to sway the
voters to your side against your contenders? These questions
have to be addressed if the words of McCroskey are anything to
go by. According to McCroskey 1971 in Teven (2008: p. 386)
a political contest is in essence a contest in credibility and
the audience will vote for the person at election time
whom they perceive to be the most credible.
An example of source credibility at play vis-à-vis political
success can be found in the research by Teven (2008) which
examined the perceived credibility of the 2008 American presi-
dential election. The primary purpose of the research was to
examine and explore the relationships between voter percep-
tions of candidate’s credibility, believability, likeability, and de-
ceptiveness. The findings saw Barak Obama, the current presi-
dent of America, scoring highest in believability, likeability,
competence, trustworthiness and goodwill. Out of the 5 candi-
dates used as a case study, he scored the lowest in deceptive-
ness. This finding demonstrates that candidate’s believability
and likeability have significant, positive relationship with
voter’s perceptions of candidate’s credibility, Teven (2008).
How was that possible? How did Obama do it? How was he
able to sway the people? He was able to communicate positive
traits to the electorate; a kind of transfer of passions from his
heart to the people. With his passionate appr oach, he was able to
transcend the barriers of racism and rose above the competition.
Source Credibility and Religion
When it comes to opinion leadership, religious leaders are
often prominent on a range of social, economic and religious
issues. Many people often consciously or unconsciously look up
to the religious leaders or clergy people on difficult and pressin g
matters. If that is the case, then they have the ability to sway the
opinion of their members or followers. How are they able to
maintain that “opinion leadership statuses”? Why do people of
all religion feel more comfortable asking and taking advice
from religious leaders? It has only one answer and that is—
source credibility.
Given that credibility can be seen as a mixture of trustwor-
thiness, expertise and attractiveness (Dholakia & Sternthal,
1977 in Levine & Stephenson, 2007), it is reasonable to antici-
pate that expertise should increase the credibility of a messen-
ger. That is, does a leader’s credibility depend on him/her
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 115
speaking from a position that is commensurate with their ac-
knowledged expertise? From the position that leaders occupy in
the society, they might not necessarily be experts for their fol-
lowers to agree with them. This is because, it is believed that
they are channels through which God speaks to human; if they
represent God, then they are filled with divine knowledge and
expertise needed to deal with an issue.
The ability to be convincing to the extent of having the de-
sired effect lies in how credible most of the followers see him
to be. However, it is anticipated that the views of a religious
leader, when rooted in scriptural or moral imperatives, will
resonate more with the public than if he/she based his/her ar-
gument in economic logic, Levine & Stephenson (2007). While
a religious leader may be a credible authority, he/she is not
necessarily an appropriate figure to argue an issue from a mate-
rial viewpoint. Similarly, a politician using an ethical argument
would seem, in the abstract, less effective than a religious leader
doing the same thing.
While that might be true in the foreign scene, it is alien in
Nigeria because, Nigerians are highly religious people and have
the tendency of hanging to the words of their spiritual directors.
Here, religious leaders speak authoritatively on politics and
political candidates, the economy to an extent and morality.
Primarily, the aim is to let the people be in the know and to
commit their unflinching faith to God who will help them rise
above any situation they may find themselves. From the point
view of goodwill, they are seen as credible since they have the
interest of the public at heart. They are there, for and only for
their followers; I believe that is enough to have ardent follow-
Summary and Analysis
In summary, an analysis of the source credibility theory re-
veals the theory to be scientific in nature. The theory also has
high level of internal consistencies. The three main models as
was gathered in the course of literature review namely; the
factor model; the functional models; and the constructivist
model allow the theory to have much more organizing power.
This model helps it to be relevant in studying communication
effects at all times.
While the factor model helps to determine to what extent the
receiver judges the source as credible, the functional model
views credibility as the degree to which a source satisfies a
receivers needs and the constructivist model analyses what the
receiver does with the sources proposal. This is where active
construction kicks in.
Well, the summary of this paper is that being perceived as
credible should be strived for in the face of challenges and
competitions. One has to package oneself so that what you pre-
sent to others works to your advantage. I believe it is what we
all need at one point or another to be seen as relevant.
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