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Trust as a social and emotional act: Noneconomic considerations in trust behavior


  • Dunning, David
  • Fetchenhauer, Detlef
  • Schlösser, Thomas M.


We review research suggesting that decisions to trust strangers may not depend on economic dynamics as much as emotional and social ones. Classic treatments of trust emphasize its instrumental or consequential nature, proposing that people trust based on expectations that their trust will be honored and the size of reward if it is. Data from our labs, however, focusing on the trust or investment game, suggest that people trust even when their expectations of reward fall below their general tolerance for risk. Further data from our lab suggests that people trust not out of a concern for the consequences of their actions as much as for the actions themselves. The emotions people report feeling about trusting versus withholding trust predicts their decisions much more strongly than the emotions they attach to the potential outcomes. Social dynamics, such as whether participants have been assigned to a specific counterpart in the game, influence whether they trust, even though their economic expectations and payoffs remain unchanged. The dynamics surrounding decisions to trust are complex, and involve social and emotional considerations beyond economic ones.

Suggested Citation

  • Dunning, David & Fetchenhauer, Detlef & Schlösser, Thomas M., 2012. "Trust as a social and emotional act: Noneconomic considerations in trust behavior," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 686-694.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:33:y:2012:i:3:p:686-694 DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2011.09.005

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    Cited by:

    1. Capraro, Valerio & Kuilder, Jotte, 2016. "To know or not to know? Looking at payoffs signals selfish behavior, but it does not actually mean so," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 79-84.
    2. Andrei, Andreia Gabriela & Adriana, Zait, 2014. "Branding insights: an interdisciplinary journey from perception to action," MPRA Paper 61114, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Hobbs, Jill E. & Goddard, Ellen, 2015. "Consumers and trust," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 71-74.

    More about this item


    Trust; Economic games; Risk behavior; Exchange relationships;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty


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