Getting From Trust to Cooperation: The Moderating Role of Cultural Trust

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Social trust has long been of interest as a micro-level factor that is predictive of prosocial attitudes and behaviors. In this dissertation I argue that the relationship between social trust and prosocial behaviors not one-to-one. My argument is informed by social psychological theory and work from the cognitive sciences on the importance of cultural factors in individual decision-making. Specifically, my theoretical argument is that widespread beliefs about the trustfulness of people in general, cultural trust, moderates the relationship between social trust and prosociality. I test this theory in three studies: 1) analysis of interview data on social trust and self-reported prosocial behavior, 2) an experimental study involving a public goods game, and 3) a cross-national, comparative study of observational data. The results of these studies have important implications for the studies of social trust and prosocial behaviors. The first study suggests that whether an individual believes people in general are trustworthy or not has more to do with perceptions shaped by cultural factors rather than experiences. The second and third studies clarify the role of cultural trust in the social trust-prosociality relationship. Namely, that high trustors are inclined to behave cooperatively, but this depends on their inferring from cultural trust what the likely behaviors others will be. The findings of these dissertation studies demonstrate that social trust is an important, but insufficient predictor of prosociality. A cultural environment characterized by low social trust can induce an equilibrium where even high trustors who would prefer to act prosocially behave selfishly, inferring others will not reciprocate their cooperation. They imply that for the maintenance of important public goods the information environment may be as important a place for interventions to promote cooperation as are education and institutional arrangements.






Doyle, Joshua (2020). Getting From Trust to Cooperation: The Moderating Role of Cultural Trust. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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