The Smarter You Are, The More Trusting You Are?

The Smarter You Are, The More Trusting You Are? June 11, 2014

The smarter you are, the more trusting you are? That’s apparently the pattern emerging in recent studies:

new study is giving the mistrustful something to consider:Intelligence strongly correlates with “generalized trust,” or the belief that most people can be trusted—that, on average, your fellow man or woman is probably a good egg.

As it turns out, a fair amount of research has been conducted on the connection between intelligence and trust, and perhaps surprisingly, intelligence and trust appear to move in lockstep. In the latest study, researchers from the University of Oxford analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which assesses a representative swath of Americans about a range of attitudes, trust among them.

Read the details and speculations about possible causes in the online journal PLoS ONEor read more of the summation in Psychology Today(H/T: Peshka, for the find.)

To me it makes sense. Mutual trustworthiness is only rational for our individual thriving, which gives incentive to opt-in to a cooperative mindset and try to have mutually trusting arrangements wherever one can. And it’s easy to project onto others one’s own mental state and assume them trustworthy if you’re trustworthy. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if mutual trust and cooperative action even depends on these simultaneous presumptuous of trustworthiness on the other’s part. One way to motivate people to cooperate in prisoner’s dilemma scenarios may be to go in with high confidence others will be trustworthy. The more doubtful you are about others’ trustworthiness, the less likely you will be to risk making the compromises for mutual greater benefit, for fear the other will try to take advantage of your sacrifice to your detriment. More perceptive people may see logically the ultimate value of compromise and cooperation better, leap to the assumption the other will see it as well (out of an overestimation of them sometimes) and default to trusting. The more both people understand the logical reasons to trust and act on them, with confidence in each other, the more everyone thrives and avoids unnecessary counterproductive attempts to mutually sabotage one another.

The rationally compelling abstract basis of moral cooperation (for those not already inclined by feeling, at least) is in the realization that even our own self-interests are systemically benefited by participating in systems of mutual benefit since our own flourishing depends on social order for its precondition and our own thriving at its maximum involves our abilities to maximize others’ flourishing through our agency since that constitutes our power functioning in them through our empowerment of them.

For my systematic development of these insights into a rational, humanistic ethics, see my posts on “Empowerment Ethics”.

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