Do We Trust Strangers Out of Obligation?

Now, this is weird.  But it makes sense.  Obligation makes us trust strangers.

Say what?  A  new study has found that "trusting a stranger may have more to do with feeling morally obligated to show respect for someone else's character than actually believing the person is trustworthy,"according to new research published by the American Psychological Association, reports.

I fear I may be that person.  Brought up to show politeness and deference to everyone, I'm the person who says, "oh, I'm sorry" when someone else pushes their way past me.  

"Trust is crucial not just for established relationships, it's also especially vital between strangers within social groups who have no responsibility toward each other outside of a single, transitory interaction. eBay or farmers' markets couldn't exist without trust among strangers," the Web site quotes lead author David Dunning, PhD, of Cornell University. "We wanted to examine why people, even those with low expectations of others, tend to trust total strangers more often than not. Our findings reveal that people trust others because they feel it's their duty or moral responsibility," Dunning says.

Duty or moral responsibility? Huh? 

"Trusting others is what people think they should do, and emotions such as anxiety or guilt associated with not fulfilling a social duty or responsibility may account for much of the excessive trust observed between strangers every day," Dunning says.

It's interesting that Dunning denotes eBay and farmers' markets as places where people trust.  I suppose if you're sending money to someone you don't know, you're trusting that this person will send the purchased item to you.  But what about all the safeguards and protections?  eBay has made it virtually impossible for people to cheat -- or be cheated -- it would seem.  How does that play into trusting strangers?

And I really don't see how farmers' markets come into this.  I guess, that you're trusting that the stuff didn't really come from the supermarket down the street?  

I would say I don't see an "excessive" amount of trust between strangers.  But I do understand the obligation of politeness, at just about any cost.  Though at times it does seem like we live among savages, with people killing someone -- or torching beds, which create fires that kill cops coming to rescue people -- because they're "bored," think what kind of world it'd be if we all thought everyone was out to get us, so civility be damned?

And then there are the people who do the most amazing things for strangers, like the man last week who leaped onto the subway tracks to help a woman who had fallen get back up on the platform.  

Yes, there are people who don't trust strangers, or just about anyone. But the pity is for them, because life is so much nicer -- at least, I've found -- when you give others, even strangers, the benefit of the doubt.


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