Table of Contents

Handbook of Research Methods on Trust

Handbook of Research Methods on Trust

Second Edition

Handbooks of Research Methods in Management series

Edited by Fergus Lyon, Guido Möllering and Mark N.K. Saunders

With the growing interest in trust in the social sciences, this second edition of the Handbook of Research Methods on Trust provides a fully updated and extended account of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods for empirical research. While many researchers have already drawn inspiration and insight from the previous edition, the dynamic development of trust research calls for further and deeper engagement with methodological issues, particular methods, practical research experience, and current challenges and innovations as offered by this new edition.

Chapter 8: Measuring generalized trust: in defense of the ‘standard’ question

Eric M. Uslaner

Subjects: business and management, organisation studies, research methods in business and management


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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