Trustworthiness is a social norm, but trusting is not

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 10 (2):170-187 (2011)
Previous literature has demonstrated the important role that trust plays in developing and maintaining well-functioning societies. However, if we are to learn how to increase levels of trust in society, we must first understand why people choose to trust others. One potential answer to this is that people view trust as normative: there is a social norm for trusting that imposes punishment for noncompliance. To test this, we report data from a survey with salient rewards to elicit people’s attitudes regarding the punishment of distrusting behavior in a trust game. Our results show that people do not behave as though trust is a norm. Our participants expected that most people would not punish untrusting investors, regardless of whether the potential trustee was a stranger or a friend. In contrast, our participants behaved as though being trustworthy is a norm. Most participants believed that most people would punish someone who failed to reciprocate a stranger’s or a friend’s trust. We conclude that, while we were able to reproduce previous results establishing that there is a norm of reciprocity, we found no evidence for a corresponding norm of trust, even among friends.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X10387260
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