Too good to be true: Influencing credibility perceptions with signaling reference explicitness and assurance depth

Carolin Baier, Max Göttsche, Andreas Hellmann, Frank Schiemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We investigate how the selection of assurance topics and the format of their communication influence the credibility perception of sustainability report readers. This is important because misleading communication may discredit ethical sustainability assurance practices. Based on signaling theory and using an experimental approach, we are the first to examine false credibility signals in the context of sustainability assurance. We find that two variables related to sustainability assurance, reference explicitness and assurance depth, jointly influence the assurance signal and the perceived credibility of a sustainability report. Our findings indicate that readers are not at risk of false signaling but can make incorrect interpretations of the assurance signal and might respond negatively to well-intentioned signals. The main implications of our findings are that firms should refrain from increasing reference explicitness and should select only the most material topics. Taken together, our results provide new insights on the unethical practice of false signaling and provide an example of an incorrect signal interpretation by readers.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Early online date1 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Sustainability assurance
  • Perceived credibility
  • False signaling

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