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Trust is central to human cooperation and a well-functioning society. Despite its centrality to human groups, little is known about how trust evolves across cultures. Most research on trust comes from WEIRD samples and is biased in its conceptualization and measurement. Thus, our understanding of how different bases of trust have evolved in different ecologies and their consequences is remarkably limited. Through four interdisciplinary research thrusts, we will address two questions:

1) How have ecological, cultural, and institutional factors shaped the nature of trust across cultures?
2) How do different bases of trust affect the mechanisms that sustain cooperation around the globe?

We theorize that different bases of trust have evolved to adapt to different environmental pressures. Research has focused exclusively on intrinsic trust—people’s default expectations of others’ trustworthiness—which is more likely to evolve in WEIRD societies marked by low ecological threat, high mobility, and strong institutions. Yet many cultures throughout history have relied upon assurance-based trust—produced through felt accountability to norms and networks that reduce uncertainty and guarantee cooperation—which is critical in contexts that face a variety of ecological and human threats and have weak institutions.

Our work will be the first to illuminate new bases of trust and trace their ecological, cultural, and institutional correlates and their multilevel consequences for human groups across history. Our multidisciplinary approach includes 1) in-depth qualitative surveys and the development of new measures of trust; 2) archival analyses of global data in industrial and non-industrial societies; 3) a 50-nation behavioral experiment and studies of the consequences of trust for societal functioning; and 4) evolutionary computational modeling. Ultimately, we will provide a comprehensive understanding of global patterns of trust that broadens the current WEIRD framework.