Trust and Rational Choice

Jessica Santana
Oxford University Press

From The Oxford Handbook of Social and Political Trust, Chapter 12

This chapter provides an overview of the rational choice orientation to the study of trust, rooted primarily in economics, political science, and sociology. Conceptualizations of trust that build on a rational choice framework focus on the cognitions that form the basis of judgments of trustworthiness and decisions to place trust in another, as well as the embeddedness of trust relations in networks, groups, and institutions. The strengths of rational choice approaches to trust and their limitations are discussed, and brief comparisons are made with other approaches that have gained popularity in the social sciences (many of which are represented in this volume). Much of the trust we see in society is based on reasoned assessments of the evidence at hand that lead one to evaluate others as trustworthy given past performance, reputational information, and the incentives at play, including those derived from network embeddedness or the institutional context.