How to Facilitate Trust in a Society

Now that we’ve agreed that trust is important and the perception of other people’s competence is a major part of trust – let us see what we can do to foster trust.

What happens when we think others are moral/intelligent?

In short, we make an effort. And that leads to improvement and a virtuous circle.

Distrust in others’ intelligence is the single most pervasive sentiment that underlines our dealings with each other and poisons the well that is our view of humankind.

Stupid people must be nudged, compelled, diverted to do what is good for them. Even if we trust ourselves to make our own choices, we do not trust others’ and use the government as a proxy.

An overprotective environment leads to deterioration of competence (and disincentives to improve) just like overregulation leads to the erosion of one’s own moral compass.

Outsourcing thinking to government is just as damaging as outsourcing morals.

When looking for a solution to how to reverse the impact of too much government on morals, we instinctively reach for the rules to rewrite them. We also call for more government to save people from the (perceived) incompetence caused by outsourcing thinking. But government efforts can only generate change in the wrong direction.

The sequence of a possible change is not necessarily that morals improve first and people relax later. Perception of improvement itself can trigger actual improvement. The same stands for intelligence.

It is notoriously difficult to raise the level of trust within society at will. Improving our perception of others’ intelligence and competence would face less resistance than trying to build trust directly.

Belief in one’s own competence is not static either. By analysing research of what impairs decision-making (and perception of it) we can attempt reverse engineering to find out what would improve it.[i]

Benefits of Trust in Competence

One of those things fluctuating with the tide and ebb of the economic cycle is the level of trust within societies. A mitigating factor – acknowledgement of others’ ability to take control of their lives without hurting others – would be highly desirable.

People who trust in their own competence to make a living are more likely to project these attributes on others. They also don’t consider the economy as a zero-sum game and don’t regard other people as a drain on common resources.

People who trust themselves and others to make their own choices are fortified against political populism and fear mongering.

Conditional intelligence, just as conditional morals could be used to induce trust – and thereby prosperity in society. It would boost society’s immune system to withstand the ever growing interventions of the state in the name of risks and dangers to be eliminated.

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Featured image: Gah Bis rue de Douai by Gail Albert-Halaban


[i] Since measurement of intelligence (of any kind) is a complicated and controversial endeavour, but studying decision making is available, it is a good proxy to what we need now.

Decision making is influenced by factors ranging from our blood sugar level to willpower depletion during the day. We make worse decisions when tired, stressed or intoxicated. Various forms of fearfulness (anxiety, worry, insecurities, etc.) can seriously impair our ability to reach optimal decisions. Our ability and nature of making decisions even changes over time as we age. By amassing experiences we tend to seek shortcuts to decision making – with varying results. Stress or fear lowers intelligence, shortens time horizon for decisions, lowers the quality of decisions or make you reluctant to make them in the first place. The same way it affects our ability to stay moral and not succumb to moral temptations.

Our temporary intellectual performance can be affected by various factors, including interpersonal intimidation, threatened belongingness (Baumeister, 2002) or the stereotype threat/ identity threat (Steele – Aronson, 1995). The phenomenon is dubbed ‘conditional stupidity’.



Yamagishi, Toshio (2001): Trust as a form of social intelligence. Pp. 121-147. in Karen S. Cook (eds.), Trust in society. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Putnam, Robert (1993): Making democracy work. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Knack, Stephen (1999): Social capital, growth and poverty: a survey of cross-country evidence. World Bank Social Capital Initiative Working Paper No. 7.

Applebaum, Anne (2012): Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56. New York: Doubleday

Uslaner, Eric (2008): Corruption, inequality, and the rule of law. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Uslaner, Eric – Dincer, Oguzhan (2010): Trust and growth. In: Public Choice, Volume 142, Issue 1-2, pp 59-67.

Carl N, Billari (2014): Generalized Trust and Intelligence in the United States. PLoS ONE 9(3)

Baumeister, Roy (2002): Effects of social exclusion on cognitive processes: Anticipated aloneness reduces intelligent thought. Pp 817-827. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83.

Steele, Claude – Aronson, Joshua (1995): Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Performance of African Americans. Pp. 797-811 In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 69. No.5.

2 thoughts on “How to Facilitate Trust in a Society

  1. Pingback: How To Sap People’s Life Force In 3 Easy Steps | Meanwhile in Budapest

  2. Pingback: Would Informants Vote For Pogroms? | Meanwhile in Budapest

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