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Egocentric foundations of trust


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Posten A-C;Mussweiler T

Publication Year



Trusting the trustworthy brings benefits whereas trusting the untrustworthy brings harm. Discriminating between the two is key to every social encounter. We propose that humans turn to internal information, namely the self, when judging the trustworthiness of others. Simulating how oneself would behave in situations that involve trust helps to predict how a counterpart may behave. Importantly, using the same self as a basis for judgments about others may result in diverging outcomes, depending on how the information is processed. If a judge focuses on similarities between the self and the target person, the judge expects the counterpart to act alike. However, if a judge focuses on differences, the target is expected to behave in ways opposite to the self. In Study 1 natural variations in self-ascribed levels of trustworthiness correlate positively with expectations of a target person’s trustworthiness. Inducing a similarity-focus increases this correlation as compared to a difference-focus. Interestingly, this effect holds even if information speaks to the target’s trustworthiness. In manipulating the perception of the participants’ own trustworthiness as well as the processing focus, Studies 2-4 demonstrate that when individuals focus on similarities, those who perceive themselves as highly (vs. less) trustworthy perceive others as similarly highly (less) trustworthy. However, when they focus on differences, the reverse pattern tends to occur. These effects hold for trust judgments (Study 2-3) and trust behavior in an economic game (Study 4). Together, these findings demonstrate that trust involves egocentric inferences that are flexible enough to adjust for basic social relations.


Trust; Egocentrism; Similarity; Economic decisions; Judgment

Available on ECCH


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