Problem: Being too trusting is often associated with a sort of naïveté or foolishness—if you really understood the way the world works, you’d be looking out for number one. You don’t want to get played, be a sucker, fall prey to schemes or betrayal. None of the “smart” reality TV show contestants are here to make friends, right? Or at least, you know, the wily ones.
Science says trust is good for you, though, and it’s good for society. Previous research has shown that “generalized trust”—that is trusting other members of society generally, rather than trusting your friends or family specifically—is linked to better self-reported health and happiness. And “countries whose citizens place greater trust in one another have more efficient public institutions and experience higher rates of economic growth.” So notes a recent study published in PLOS One, which adds to the literature on the topic by looking at how generalized trust is related to intelligence.
Methodology: Noah Carl and Francesco C. Billari of the University of Oxford analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative U.S. public opinion survey administered every one to two years. Generalized trust was measured by the question, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” To measure intelligence, they looked at participants’ scores on a 10-question vocabulary quiz (“Despite its brevity, the test has a correlation of 0.71 with…an IQ exam developed by the U.S. Military,” the study notes), as well as the interviewer’s assessments of how well participants understood the survey questions.