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Trust and social progress: Discussion
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  1. Trust and social progress: Discussion Nigel Harvey University College London

  2. Data types favoured by different social science disciplines • Sociologists tend to focus on verbal data and statements (responses to surveys and polls, narratives, discourse analysis, etc). • Economists, particularly micro-economists, prefer to use non-verbal behavioural data (revealed preferences, purchasing behaviour). • Psychologists are interested in the relations between these two types of data (implicit versus explicit learning, automatic versus controlled processing).

  3. Trust and happiness • Stated community trust (ratings of agreement with ‘In general, people can be trusted’) predicts stated happiness (ratings of life satisfaction). • Does the same relation hold between revealed trust (eg willingness to act on someone’s advice) and revealed happiness (eg prescribing levels of anti-depressants)? • If it does not, the relation between stated variables may reflect people’s lay theories of how a third variable (eg economic conditions) affects both their community trust and their happiness.

  4. Lay theories • To say that the relation reflects lay theories is not to belittle its importance. Such theories can influence not only the content of verbal behaviour (responses to polls, interviews, conversations) but also verbally mediated non-verbal behaviour. • The problem for psychologists is to determine the extent to which non-verbal behaviours (voting, large purchases) are verbally mediated and influenced by lay theories of how society works. • What is the status of ‘rational expectations’?

  5. Stated versus revealed trust • Onora O’Neill, in her 2002 Reith lectures, says: “We may end up claiming not to trust, and yet, for practical purposes place trust in the very sources we claim not to trust”. There is a dissociation between stated and revealed trust. • RL points out that, across countries, stated trust correlates 0.65 with the proportion of dropped wallets containing owners’ addresses that are returned. But the latter is a measure not of revealed trust but of revealed trustworthiness.

  6. Determinants of stated trust • Earle & Cvetkovich (1999) argued that trust placement is non-rational (ie not based on evidence of trustworthiness). • They found people’s judgments of trust in an agency correlated 0.66 with how much they shared values with it. They assume assessment of shared values is based on ‘value-bearing narratives’ produced by the agency • We (Twyman et al, 2005) have replicated this with risks associated with sports, jobs, drugs and travel.

  7. Determinants of revealed trust • “The greatest trust between man and man is the trust of giving counsel” (Francis Bacon): the extent to which we use advice from one source rather than another reveals our relative trust in those sources. • Revealed trust has a rational basis. We are more likely to use advice from sources who have given better advice in the past (Harvey & Fischer, 1997). Lack of trust in government advice about MMR can be seen in the light of the failure of that advice in the context of BSE.

  8. Relation between stated and revealed trust • Different factors appear to determine levels of stated and revealed trust. The extent to which they coincide is an empirical question. • We compared stated and revealed trust in advice about risks received from government agencies and consumer support services. • When the government agency gave better advice, revealed trust in it was higher than stated trust in it. When it gave worse advice, revealed trust was lower than stated trust in it.

  9. Do people know what will make them happy? • Various studies (eg Kahneman & Snell, 1990) suggest that people do not know what will make them happy. People assessing how their liking of plain yogurt would change after eight daily servings thought it would decrease. In fact, it increased. • People asked what they would like to eat for seven days in advance select variety whereas those asked on each day do not. • These results suggest people have lay theories of happiness that are not always appropriate.

  10. Inappropriate lay theories of happiness • Schkade & Kahneman (1998) asked two groups (Midwesterners & Californians) to assess how satisfied they were with their lives in general and with certain aspects in particular (eg job prospects, climate). Two other groups did the same for people in the other place. • Happiness of Californians and Midwesterners did not differ. But Midwesterners thought Californians would be happier. They overrated the importance Californians gave to climate and culture. Inappropriate lay theories may influence migration.

  11. Context in happiness judgments: The focussing illusion • Wilson et al (2000) asked people to judge how happy they would be if their favourite football team won a future fixture. After their team had won, they asked them how happy they were. • People had overestimated how happy they would be and how long their elation would last. • Asking them to fill in a diary before the game detailing what they would be doing after it reduced the effect. They realised other events would influence their happiness besides the game result. • Focussing occurs with retrospective judgments too.

  12. Discussion points • Value of different types of data and some knowledge of the relation between them. • Onora O’Neill’s claims about dissociations between revealed and stated trust. • Effects of context and lay theories on validity of survey results. • Cross-cultural differences in ways of dealing with lack of trust and their relation to happiness.