Rationalists have difficulty accounting for multilateral cooperation because of their reliance on strategic trust. However, rationalism does not exhaust the varieties of trust, either theoretically or empirically. Social psychologists have centered their attention instead on generalized trust, a relatively optimistic view about the trustworthiness of others. Generalized trust is not tailored to individual circumstances or partners but serves as a general rule that guides behavior and choices about cooperation. The etymology of generalized trust is “A trusts” or “A is trusting.” Generalized trust allows for a more open community and reciprocity circle.
Generalized trust is not based on a naïve belief that all others are trustworthy. Rather it is a default tendency to trust, ceteris paribus, unless there is specific information indicating that this is not wise (Mercer 2005: 95; Yamagishi 2001: 124). Brewer calls it “depersonalized trust” (1981: 356). As such, generalized trust is not inconsistent with distrust of specific others who have proved themselves to be unreliable and dishonest partners. As Uslaner writes, “It is hardly contradictory for someone who places great faith in people to check out the qualifications and honesty of specific persons” (2002: 24). Nor is it a panacea. Even generalized trust might not promote cooperation if the costs of a breach of trust are dramatic. Vulnerability is not distrust.
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