Trust Discrimination toward Socially Dominant and Subordinate Social Groups

By Niu, Jianghe; Rosenthal, Seth A. | North American Journal of Psychology, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Trust Discrimination toward Socially Dominant and Subordinate Social Groups


Niu, Jianghe, Rosenthal, Seth A., North American Journal of Psychology


Are people in socially dominant groups more trusted than people in subordinate groups? Societies tend "to be structured as systems of group-based social hierarchies" (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999, p.31), with different groups maintaining higher and lower status levels. A dominant group is characterized by a disproportionately large share of power, wealth, social status, and good health care. A subordinate group has less power, wealth, social status, and poorer health care, and is often engaged in more high-risk occupations. Hierarchical group distinctions can involve "any of an essentially infinite number of potential distinctions between groups of human beings" (p. 48). Individuals generally accept, support, and even desire, the existence of such group-based social hierarchies. In the United States, gender, education, income, race, and increasingly, linguistic group (Wong, 2006), are distinctive hierarchical social groupings.

Trust is often described as a belief or confidence about another party's integrity (i.e., reliability, predictability, and dependability) and/or benevolence (i.e., caring, good will, and positive motives, and intentions; Mayer, Davis & Schoorman, 1995; Nooteboom, 2007; Ross & LaCroix, 1996). For the purposes of this study, trust is defined as confidence in, and positive beliefs and expectations about, other people's and groups' intentions, attitudes, and behavior. Past research on differences in trust among social groups has typically focused on the level of trust that members of particular social groups exhibit. For instance, research has explored issues such as demographic differences in the belief that "most people can be trusted" (Sztompka, 1999); gender differences in trust of unknown partners (Wang & Yamagishi, 1995); and the effects of race, ethnicity, and income on the trust of personal physicians (Schnittker, 2004; see also Sheppard, Zambrane, & O'Malley, 2004).

In contrast, the current study examines differences in trust for, rather than by, key social groups. We refer to this phenomenon as trust discrimination--the difference in trust level for one specific social group versus another social group with which it is naturally coupled (i.e., trust in males versus females, wealthy versus poor people, etc.). People's general preference for dominant over subordinate groups (Sidanius, Pratto & Mitchell, 1994) suggests that trust discrimination will follow a hierarchical pattern, with socially dominant groups trusted more than their paired socially subordinate groups. Accordingly, this study examines levels of trust discrimination between five paired social groups: Whites and non-Whites, males and females, fluent English speakers and non-fluent English speakers, more-educated and less-educated people, and those with higher income and those with lower income. The first group listed for each pair generally holds a higher social position in the United States than does the second group listed (Iwasaki, Bartlett & MacKay, 2005; Knowles & Peng, 2005; Sidanius, Singh, Hetts & Federico, 1999; Vorauer, 2003). Two hypotheses are tested in this study:

(One) Each of the five socially dominant groups is trusted more than their paired socially subordinate counterpart;

(Two) The magnitude of trust discrimination varies among paired groups.

METHOD

Participants and Procedures

Participants were a diverse sample of 127 U.S. citizens (63 male, 64 female). Ages ranged from an 18-20 years age group to a 66-70 years age group (median age group = 26-30 years). 75.6% of participants were White, and 24.4% of participants were non-White; 14.3% had elementary and secondary education, 54.3% had at least some college education, and 30.7% had at least some graduate education; 95% participants were native English speakers, and 5% were not.

Participants were recruited in the greater Boston area. According to the 2000 census (U. …

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