Philip has been awarded 3.2 MSEK to study how decisions and social learning shape intergroup trust.
Trust is fundamental to social behavior and to the functioning of society. Recent work has shown that increasing diversity in society might lead to lower levels of trust. However, how such changes in trust are acquired by individuals and shaped by their experiences is not known. Here we propose to investigate trust as a learning phenomenon, using methods and theories from experimental social psychology and computational reinforcement learning theory. By doing so we address a critical gap in the literature and contribute a behavior-based approach to studying a trust complementing existing survey-based methods. Over the course of three studies we will investigate how participants learn to trust and distrust social partners based on their own and their partners’ ethnic group membership. In the first, we will investigate how decisions about whom to interact with can bias what experiences are available to learn from. In the second, we will investigate the role of observational social learning shaping trust expectations. In the third, we will leverage insights from the first two studies to pilot interventions aimed at increasing trust. The studies will be the first of their kind taking a comprehensive learning approach to trust between members of different ethnic groups and provide critical information how individual experiences shape intergroup trust. These findings can, in turn, not only inform existing theoretical debates but further translational efforts targeting societal trust.