Trust, gullibility and skepticism

Virtual Keynote at the Second Annual Conference of ConTrust

Thursday, November 17, 2022, 6.00p.m. CET

Prof Pippa Norris (John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University)

Moderation: Prof Nicole Deitelhoff (ConTrust, PRIF, Goethe University)

The extensive contemporary literature from multiple disciplines has highlighted many beneficial consequences claimed to arise from trust within advanced industrialized societies, such as for sustaining love (Larzelere and Huston), overcoming collective action problems within local communities (Putnam); lubricating the wheels of economic markets (Arrow, Fukuyama); managing organizations (Mayer, Davis and Schoorman);  overcoming gridlock in policymaking (Hetherington); legitimating governments (Gamson); sustaining rule of law (Tyler); and facilitating international cooperation underpinning democratic peace (Russett).  It follows that any signs of low or eroding trust are, and should be, a matter of serious concern.

But a broader perspective recognizes that in fact trust has two faces, not one. Blind trust in anti-vax posts weaken herd immunity, putting lives at risk. Faith in Q-Anon conspiracy theories triggered violent insurrection attacking the U.S. Capital. Equally disastrous consequences can follow from gullible belief in fake Covid-19 cures like ingesting bleach, investing lifesavings in Madoff pyramid schemes, or trusting the Big Lie about President Biden’s legitimate victory. It is well-known that trust has a dark side, after all, the fable of the frog and the scorpion teaches children to beware of faux promises.

This presentation, drawn from a forthcoming OUP book “In Praise of Skepticism”, questions the prevalent rosy assumptions underpinning modern accounts of trust. The study unpacks the concept and advances a new 4-fold typology of trustworthy relationships. This is used to analyze new empirical evidence drawn from the World Values Survey 1981-2021 in 115 societies. Social, political and international dimension of trust are compared among diverse authoritarian states, ranging from Myanmar, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to China, Russia, Nicaragua, and Qatar, as well as among industrialized liberal democracies such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the U.S. and the UK. The conclusion argues that the risks of too much compliant trust, among individuals and societies, have commonly been underestimated.

For further information about the book: Click here…

To download the paper „Trust in Government Redux: The role of information environments and cognitive skills“ (pdf): Click here…