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The Dynamics of Contracts and Generalized Trustworthiness

Brent Simpson and Kimmo Eriksson
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Brent Simpson: Department of Sociology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA, bts@sc.edu

Rationality and Society, 2009, vol. 21, issue 1, 59-80

Abstract: Generalized trust, or trust in strangers, has been traced to a wide range of societal benefits. But generalized trust is not sustainable in the absence of widespread generalized trustworthiness, that is, the tendency for strangers to honor trust extended to them. While there has been much work on the origins and consequences of generalized trust, surprisingly little research has addressed the antecedents of generalized trustworthiness. We argue that generalized trustworthiness is negatively affected by prior exposure to a ubiquitous extrinsic motivator of trustworthy behavior, contracts. Specifically, drawing on classic social psychological research on the overjustification effect, we argue that actors previously constrained by contracts will attribute their own `trustworthy' behavior in those interactions to the contract itself. According to overjustification arguments, this misattribution should lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivations to act trust-worthily in interactions where the actor is not constrained by the contract. Results of a new experiment support this argument.

Keywords: contracts; exchange; overjustification; trust; trustworthiness (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2009
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