Monday, December 19, 2016

Study: Do white people trust Asians?


By Louis Chan

I RAN across an episode of Freakonomics on NPR Radio which quoted an interesting study about trust.

Researchers at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted an experiment intended to measure trust. It found that Whites were more likely to cheat Asians than members of their own racial group.

The study is from 2000, but given the current political divide in the country, one has to wonder if we would get the same results today.

Almost 200 Harvard undergraduates were asked to participate in an experiment. More than 35 percent of the study’s participants were Asian. The students are paired up. First they are given $15 and asked to pass the money on to the next person without knowing if they would get that money back. Each time the money is passed, the researchers double the amount that is received. Researchers found that Whites were more likely to take some or even all of the money before passing it to the other when that person was of another racial group.

Ninety-two percent of the cases where the recipient sent back nothing occurred when the recipients were of a different race, while only 59 percent of the pairings were racially diverse.

“A lot of the cheating was across racial and ethnic lines,” said Harvard researcher Ed Glaeser on NPR. “And this was primarily White on Asian, meaning the Whites were cheating the Asians. And I think there are lots of cases in the world in which we’ve seen racial fractionalization be related to less-than-perfectly functioning social relations.”

Researchers say that trust is built up through interaction. In other words, the more interaction you have with other people, the more trust is built up.

“People that go to university end up trusting much more than those who don’t, particularly when they go away residentially," said David Halpern of Britain’s Behavioral Insights Team.

“It doesn’t look like it’s explained by income alone. So there’s something about the experience of going off as a young person in an environment where you have lots of other young people from different backgrounds and so on, hopefully, and different ethnicities. You learn the habits of trust because you’re in an environment where you can trust other people; they are trustworthy. And you internalize these habits and you take them with you the rest of your life.”

However, they also found that its harder to build up trust in diverse societies than it is in homogeneous societies. Societies where people trust one another are healthier and wealthier. In the U.S. (and the U.K. and elsewhere), social trust has been falling for decades — in part because our populations are more diverse.

The Harvard study on trust was conducted in 2000 (before the Great Recession, before President Obama was elected, before the 2016 presidential campaign) If it were conducted today, do you think they’d get the same results?

You'd be surprised but the podcast ends on a hopeful note. In the past, with each wave of immigration, there was initial distrust, but eventually, says one of the researchers, the "others" became "us."

For more information about building trust and the impact of diversity on trust, listen to the podcast or read the transcript here. 
(Views From the Edge contributed to this report)
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