Trust is an important yet misused word. I was intrigued by this article in the latest Harvard Business Review on Political Identity and Trust by Pablo Hernandez and Dylan Minor

Executive Summary

Political polarization is an important phenomenon that has motivated many recent popular and academic articles. The emergence of polarization is often explained as being driven by those with different political identities having dislike or even hatred for one other. However, polarization can also be driven by beliefs that the “other side” simply cannot be trusted.

In this study, through a set of incentivized experiments, we discover that polarization is more likely driven by incorrect beliefs than a distaste for others. Although this finding is encouraging since incorrect beliefs should be easier to change than people’s taste-based preferences, we find that these incorrect beliefs are, in fact, hard to change.

Author Abstract

We explore how political identity affects trust.

Using an incentivized experimental survey conducted on a representative sample of the U.S. population, we vary information about partners’ partisan identity to elicit trust behavior, beliefs about trustworthiness, and actual reciprocation. By eliciting beliefs, we are able to assess whether differences in trust rates are due to stereotyping or a “taste for discrimination.”

By measuring actual trustworthiness, we are able to determine whether beliefs are statistically correct. We find that trust is pervasive and depends on the partisan identity of the trustee. Differential trust rates are explained by incorrect stereotypes about the other’s lack of trustworthiness rather than by a “taste for discrimination.” Given the importance of beliefs, we run additional treatments in which we disclose previous reciprocation rates before participants decide whether to trust. We find that beliefs are slightly more optimistic compared with the previous treatments, suggesting that incorrect stereotypes are hard to change.

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