Abstracts on Global Climate Change

Feb 2004

Thinking aloud about trust: A protocol analysis of trust in risk management

Earle, TC

RISK ANALYSIS 24:1 169-183

There are two general theories of trust in risk management. One, derived from normative considerations, claims that trust is based on universally applicable factors such as fairness and objectivity. According to the second, social-psychological theory, trust is based on agreement or similarity and is context specific. Although the first theory is normative, it also claims, along with the second, to be a descriptive account of how trust judgments are made. The present study was designed to test the adequacy of these two theories by using a think-aloud procedure to examine the thinking associated with trust judgments in an experimental simulation of a typical risk management context. Contrary to the universalist theory, results supported two hypotheses derived from the social-psychological theory. First, study participants-who read brief policy statements designed to address global climate change-based their trustjudgments on specific forms of agreement, ranging from agreement on the importance of the issue to agreement on values inferred from the policy statement. Second, the extent and depth of participants’ conscious information processing was negatively related to the level of trust. Disagreement and distrust generated more conscious consideration than agreement and trust. These results provide a more detailed understanding than previously available of how trust in risk management is based on local forms of agreement that vary across people, contexts, and time.

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