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Research Details

Understanding the Trust Deficit in China


Using social identity theory and intergroup contact theory, we attempted to understand and address an empirical conundrum that Chinese hold a relatively low level of trust toward generalized others. We hypothesized that people who have positive experiences with out-group rather than in-group members will report higher generalized trust. In three experiments with Chinese participants, perceiving support of (Study 1), receiving help from (Study 2), and being trusted by (Study 3) out-group members led to higher generalized trust. Indirect reciprocity partially mediated this relationship. Study 4 added field evidence by showing that reciprocal helping with out-groups instead of in-groups generated higher generalized trust among Chinese respondents. Study 5 demonstrated a similar pattern across various countries using cross-national data sets and a cross-level analysis. This research offers insights into China's trust deficit and contributes to the trust literature by investigating how specific and eventful experiences shape normally stable generalized trust.


Working Paper


Jeanne Brett, Jing Jing Yao, Zhixue Zhang, J. Keith Murnighan

Date Published



Brett, Jeanne, Jing Jing Yao, Zhixue Zhang, and J. Keith Murnighan. 2015. Understanding the Trust Deficit in China.


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