Handbooks of Research Methods in Management series
Edited by Fergus Lyon, Guido Möllering and Mark N.K. Saunders
Chapter 8: Measuring generalized trust: in defense of the ‘standard’ question
This chapter reviews several key issues in the measurement of trust: whether to include a single measure or multiple items, whether to measure trust as a dichotomy or on a scale with more values, what trust means in different cultures and languages, and whether trust means the same thing at the aggregate and individual levels. The measurement of interpersonal trust has been as controversial as the debate over what trust means and what shapes faith in others. I review some of the controversies about the measurement of trust and offer evidence in defense of the ‘standard’ question in research on generalized trust: ‘Generally speaking, do you believe that most people can be trusted or can’t you be too careful in dealing with people?’ The standard question was first formulated by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in Germany in 1948. Morris Rosenberg created a misanthropy scale that includes trust and the perceptions that people are fair and helpful (Zmerli and Newton, 2008) in surveys of American college students in 1956. Many researchers use the misanthropy scale as a measure of ‘trust.’ Is ‘misanthropy’ the same as trust? Beyond the issue of whether the deity of ‘trust’ is one or three, there are controversies over what the standard question means, whether the traditional dichotomy (trust versus being careful) captures the range of variation in people’s faith in others, and how best to measure trust. I consider each of these issues in this chapter.
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