SSC Survey Results On Trust

Last post talked about individual differences in whether people found others basically friendly or hostile. The SSC survey included a sort of related question: “Are people basically trustworthy?”

The exact phrasing asked respondents to rate other people from 1 (“basically trustworthy”) to 5 (“basically untrustworthy”). 4853 people answered. The average was 2.49 – so skewed a bit towards higher trust. The overall pattern looked like this:

Trust didn’t differ by gender. Women averaged 2.56 and men 2.48, not a significant difference even with our fantastic sample size.

And I couldn’t detect it differing by race. Whites averaged 2.47 and nonwhites 2.59, which was nonsignificant despite decent sample size. Blacks were 2.81 and trended toward significance vs. whites, but the sample size was too small to be sure.

And I couldn’t detect it differing by religiousity. Committed theists (n = 506) had a trust level of 2.54, no more or less trusting than the average (and mostly atheist) SSC population.

And I couldn’t detect it differing by intelligence. There was no correlation between trust and either IQ or SAT score. There was a significant difference (p = 0.001) based on education level, all the way from PhDs at 2.35 to high school graduates only at 2.62.

There were some decent-sized differences among different US states, with more urban and liberal states being more trusting. Among the states with decent sample size, California (n = 608) was 2.43, New York (n = 298) was 2.47, and Texas (n = 143) was 2.75; the California/Texas difference was significant at p = 0.001. I was only able to eyeball rather than actually significance-test the urban/liberal correlation, but it looked pretty strong.

There were similar differences between countries. Germany (n = 192) at 2.35, the UK (n = 353) at 2.37, and Canada (n = 2.39) were all significantly more trusting than the US (n = 3124) at 2.53 – but obviously the effect wasn’t too impressive. There were only two non-western countries with remotely usable sample sizes. Brazil (n = 28) was 2.89, and India (n = 27) was 2.81. The non-western/Anglosphere difference was significant even with the low sample size. The most trusting city in the world was Toronto (n = 60), at 2.23.

There were so many professions, with such small sample sizes, that I wasn’t really confident any of them were much more or less trusting than others. But for what it’s worth, the number one least trusting profession, at 3.00, was mental health, and I am 100% not at all surprised. Otherwise there seemed to be a weak trend for nerdier and math-ier professions to be more trusting than others.

By politics, the ranking looked like this:

Social democratic: 2.38
Liberal: 2.40
Libertarian: 2.48
Conservative: 2.67
Communist: 2.80
Neoreactionary: 2.97
Alt-right: 2.97

Looks like the same trend of conservative = less trusting. Harder to figure out what to think about left vs. liberal, given the social democrats in the lead vs. communists very far behind.

Effective altruists who had taken the GWWC Pledge were much more trusting – 2.19 – than any other natural group I could find in this survey, more trusting even than Torontoans. After some work, I managed to find an unnatural group that beat them. Polyamorous Less Wrong readers from California – my proxy for the real-life Bay Area rationalist community – had a trust score of 2.13.

I had wondered if more trusting people would want less strict moderation, but the opposite was actually true – less trusting people wanted weaker moderation. Maybe this is mediated by conservativism – or maybe they just don’t trust me to moderate!

Autism, anxiety, OCD, and drug use all lowered trust; depression and bipolar disorder did not.

People who put down “Other” in any category were always much less trusting than any of the options, almost as if they didn’t trust people to accurately interpret the binned choices.

If you want to look into this yourself, you can find the data publicly available here, but be warned – predictably, the people who agreed to let me make their data public were systematically more trusting (2.49) than the people who refused (2.70).

165 thoughts on “SSC Survey Results On Trust

  1. ed_hustings

    Autism, anxiety, OCD, and drug use all lowered trust…

    This phrasing implies causality where it does not necessarily exist. May I suggest:

    Autism, anxiety, OCD, and drug use were all negatively correlated with trust…

  2. adrianodsa

    Funny see Brazil described as a “non-western” country. Most brazilians would see themselves as part of the western tradition.

  3. sconn

    I trust most people, except people who tell me they’re not trusting. When a person says “the average human being is a scumbag with no conscience,” I generally assume they’re projecting. Typical-mind fallcy and all that.

  4. switchnode

    People who put down “Other” in any category were always much less trusting than any of the options, almost as if they didn’t trust people to accurately interpret the binned choices.

    This is my favorite finding.

  5. Deiseach

    By posting the results on, anyone can query the results via SQL, create visualizations from them, run statistical analyses, or join in data from other sources.

    So long as they sign up for Data World. Alas, not being a data person, I feel I cannot in all honesty “Join the social network for data people”.

    Well, actually, I feel I don’t want to give another feckin’ website personal details when the odds that I’ll ever use it for more than this once are very very small, so not bothering to do it.

    But genuinely thanks, Dave, for going to the trouble. Actually, this might be a good question for any more surveys: how do you feel about having to join a website like this? (a) Sure, I’ll happily sign up for my 100th account online, this is the 21st century after all and this is just how things work in 2017! (b) What the hell happened to the free flow of information? The hell I’m gonna hand over personal data to yet another shower that want to monetise it and will probably sell it to marketing lists or data scrape it to spam me with ads (c) I am folding a new tinfoil hat with one hand even as I type this reply with the other

    1. Evan Þ

      Wasn’t there a question on this last survey asking how you felt about SSC suddenly requiring accounts?

    2. registrationisdumb

      d)Hi data world, my name is George Pocahontas Soros, my address is Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, FL 32830. My phone number is 8675309.

      1. Deiseach

        Hi, George, so how come your ISP is telling us you’re located in [REDACTED]? On holiday there, are you?

        My main objections are handing over an email address; I’m still getting weird mailings from some crowd because of something I plainly can’t even remember signing up for on a once-off.

        And like hell I’m signing up to them with my Facebook or Google account, those buggers know too much already! 😉

  6. Dave

    I’ve taken the liberty of posting the survey results here: on By posting the results on, anyone can query the results via SQL, create visualizations from them, run statistical analyses, or join in data from other sources.

    Disclaimer: I’m a principle software developer at, as well as being a fan and a participant in this survey. I have not cleared posting this data with Scott, but will take it down immediately if requested.

  7. Well...

    Scott, if I have an online survey I’d like as many SSC readers as possible to take, and I want your help signal-boosting it, what should I do to maximize my odds that you’ll help me out?

      1. Well...

        One reason is I want to at least due my due diligence to get Scott to signal-boost it. (If by chance I had the very first comment on a non-hidden open thread I might consider that adequate.)

        The other reason is I’m not quite ready to share it yet.

  8. carvenvisage

    The black result is one of the highest of those you mentioned. Couldn’t detect or couldn’t confirm?

  9. Deiseach

    Polyamorous Less Wrong readers from California – my proxy for the real-life Bay Area rationalist community – had a trust score of 2.13.

    I don’t know if it’s the constellation of traits as listed here that makes it amusing to me, but yes, I’m laughing 🙂

    Also, I think this may account for that whole “Explain the alien concept of ‘jealousy’ to me, Earthling” attitude going on in some poly blogs, where they had to coin the whole new term compersion for how not-jealous they were.

    Nope, it’s to do with high levels of trust. Jealousy goes along with a tendency towards feeling suspicion, which is linked to how trusting or not you are. It’s not that the poly people don’t have the trait of, or capacity for, jealousy; it’s that their circuit breaker is set to trip at a much higher load than for the ‘jealous’/less trusting people. Things that would evoke suspicion and therefore set off jealousy in someone less trusting don’t have the same effect on those who are highly trusting: no, I don’t think Jane spending every night this week with Jack means she likes him better than me and so is likely to leave me.

    It’s like the ending of Some Like It Hot, where “Daphne” is trying to persuade Osgood to break off their engagement, and Osgood keeps on being calm and accepting as “she” escalates the reasons why it won’t work:

    Jerry: Oh no you don’t! Osgood, I’m gonna level with you. We can’t get married at all.
    Osgood: Why not?
    Jerry: Well, in the first place, I’m not a natural blonde.
    Osgood: Doesn’t matter.
    Jerry: I smoke! I smoke all the time!
    Osgood: I don’t care.
    Jerry: Well, I have a terrible past. For three years now, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.
    Osgood: I forgive you.
    Jerry: [tragically] I can never have children!
    Osgood: We can adopt some.
    Jerry: But you don’t understand, Osgood! Ohh…
    [Jerry finally gives up and pulls off his wig]
    Jerry: [normal voice] I’m a man!
    Osgood: [shrugs] Well, nobody’s perfect!

    1. Nornagest

      I’m pretty sympathetic to poly, but that business of inventing new emotions always struck me as silly.

      1. Dedicating Ruckus

        I’m neither poly nor particularly sympathetic to it, but the explanation I saw of “compersion” was basically just “strong happiness triggered by the happiness of someone you have affection for”, which is a thing that I definitely experience and that I don’t think an explicit word for exists.

        1. Nornagest

          Empathy? Sympathy? “Happy for you”?

          I don’t doubt that such a thing exists, I doubt that it’s exclusive to polyamorous practice or prevalent in it to the extent that coining a new word for it is justified.

          1. Ozy Frantz

            Mm, in my experience there’s a qualitatively different thing of “omg my partner and their partner are so CUTE together.” That said, it is clearly also a monogamous feeling– monogamous people probably feel it quite often about their friends.

          2. blacktrance

            Empathy? Sympathy? “Happy for you”?

            Empathy and sympathy typically mean that the person you care about is having negative experiences. “Happy for you” is three words.

          3. Brad

            That said, it is clearly also a monogamous feeling– monogamous people probably feel it quite often about their friends.

            For me, the purest form of this is where I for whatever reason don’t find either member of the couple attractive.

            If I have a female friend that I’m attracted to and she is happy with her boyfriend or husband, I might be happy for them but it is tinged with regret / jealousy / other complicated feelings. Likewise if a male friend of mine starts dating someone that I find really attractive.

            Whereas if my sister and her boyfriend are happy together I have a purer kind of happiness for them. Or if my lesbian friend starts dating another unattractive-to-me woman.

            The way I read how poly people use compersion is that there is an implicit claim that they are experiencing the purer version in spite of the fact that they obviously attracted to one (or both) members of the couple.

          4. Aapje


            But wouldn’t that automatically be true due to self-selection?

            Assume that you have two people where one naturally really desires for their partner to be happy (even at their own expense) and is not very jealous and the other cares more about their own happiness and is quite jealous. You’d expect the latter to greatly prefer monogamy, while the former would be way more likely to be polyamorous.

            This then doesn’t mean that compersion is a true emotion, but that it actually consists of being high in susceptibility to Mudita and low in susceptibility to jealousy, where those are independent traits; that merely happen to correlate in polyamorous people because that lifestyle works the best for people with both traits.

        2. Deiseach

          The way I’ve seen compersion used is in the chirpy “The reason we’re not jealous is because we have compersion!”

          Which, if it only means “happy that those we care about are happy”, applies to practically every damn human being. You can be happy that your sister got a promotion at work or that your uncle’s hip replacement operation went well, and still be unhappy because your romantic partner seems to be doing an awful lot of “sorry honey, have to work late at the office” recently and yet a mutual friend swore they saw them in the pub and not at work last Wednesday oh no? oh must have been mistaken then.

          Yeah. If it gets adopted into wider use, great, but so far I’ve only seen it used to bash the monogamous (“silly jealous types! just cultivate compersion, emulate our superior virtue!”) And yes, I acknowledge it’s often not meant to come across in that tone, but equally often it does come across like that.

  10. Deiseach

    I had wondered if more trusting people would want less strict moderation, but the opposite was actually true – less trusting people wanted weaker moderation. Maybe this is mediated by conservativism – or maybe they just don’t trust me to moderate!

    Possibly it may be that we less trusting persons would imagine “A moderator is probably going to have some bias, conscious or not, towards their own side, and since I can’t be sure Their Side is the same as My Side, I can’t be sure they will treat me or those like me fairly, so better the devil you know than the devil you don’t when it comes to more moderation”. Whereas the more trusting are likely to be “Of course a moderator will be fair and impartial and neutral, so yes more moderation please!”

    1. toastengineer

      I’d imagine it’s just conservatives being more used to being discriminated against by online moderators.

      1. Deiseach

        Oh there’s definitely that, but it goes both ways. There are, after all, conservative sites where the liberal feel they’re being discriminated against.

        And remember all the liberal/left-wing types who loudly complained that SSC was plainly a lair of right-wing serpents lying in wait for an innocent liberal victim they could pounce upon and gang up on? The irony there being all the right-wing types complaining at the same time that SSC was plainly biased towards the progressives and would ban, block or otherwise gag conservative free speech (with lists of examples where they felt this had happened) 🙂

  11. Joseph Yau

    Holy Moly! 9 people in Hong Kong completed the survey. I always thought I was the only person in the city who reads this blog!

    1. jprester

      Oh hi fellow Hong Konger. Well in 2 years I’ve been here I really tried hard to evangelise the SSC/LW. Was surprised that even the local EA and Sceptics groups weren’t very aware of the greater rationalsphere, but it is kinda improving lately. So no.. you aren’t the only one. Biggest issue is that HK working hours don’t leave you much free time for this things.

  12. Maznak

    Funny thing: there is a saying in Czech (maybe not only), “distrust is the wisdom of dumb people”. Meaning (probably), if I don’t have the capacity to recognise subtle fraud, I rather don’t trust anybody. I have sometimes anecdotically found this to be the case. But maybe “dumb” should be replaced with “less educated”?

    1. carvenvisage

      But maybe “dumb” should be replaced with “less educated”?

      Education (in english) usually refers to intellectual training, where someone spends a lot of time away from the rest of the world to gain specialised skills, and I would think this would have the opposite effect if any.

  13. Steve Winwood

    “And I couldn’t detect it differing by race. Whites averaged 2.47 and nonwhites 2.59, which was nonsignificant despite decent sample size. Blacks were 2.81 and trended toward significance vs. whites, but the sample size was too small to be sure.”

    Just going from memory of past Andrew Gelman posts, don’t think it’s good statistical practice for things to “trend towards significance”: generally, inasmuch as one accepts the whole null-hypothesis-plus-significance-cutoff package as valid, my understanding is that cutoff has to be hard and fast for the conclusions to make philosophical sense. This is a brief Gelman paper on “marginal significance” (which I’d interpret the same way) that has some discussion of the topic.

    1. markk116

      The paper you linked was a pretty interesting read, and it has me wondering what caused this trend. On the surface, one might say something like increased pressure to publish. However, one would hope the journals and the peer-review process would help to keep this kind of thing out. Isn’t it in the journal’s long-term interest to really crack down on vague statements like “trending towards significance”? Why then do scientists employing shoddy statistics not get completely roasted academically?

      1. Aapje

        Why then do scientists employing shoddy statistics not get completely roasted academically?

        Probably for the same reason why so few replication studies happen: the system is set up to reward getting your papers accepted by journals, which in practice means:
        – Original research
        – It’s enough to have a result that can be argued to be significant, using math-like constructs, regardless of whether the math is correct
        – It’s a bad idea to be a strict reviewer, since that can result in retaliation

        Basically, scientists who really care about being correct tend to get outcompeted by those with worse moral standards.

        1. Toby Bartels

          >It’s a bad idea to be a strict reviewer, since that can result in retaliation

          How is this done? In math, reviewers are anonymous, and it was my impression that this is so in all of academia. Are there fields where reviews are not anonymous?

          (There are also subfields so small that you pretty much know who your reviewer has to be, but in that case, the reviewer is probably prestigious enough to be immune to your retaliation.)

          1. Aapje

            The retaliation doesn’t have to be against the specific reviewer, but can just be against any other paper that the person reviews. Creating a strict culture is a bad idea when a strict culture hurts you. I think that the scientific incentives are mostly set up to make scientists collectively best off if they aren’t too strict.

  14. Eponymous

    Personally, I have a strong ingroup/outgroup differential in trust. I’m quite trusting of people I know, or are otherwise natural members of my social circle, but I’m very suspicious of strangers.

    This probably has something to do with growing up in a bad neighborhood.

    1. andrewflicker

      It’s interesting that you phrased it that way- I know quite a few people that I don’t consider my ingroup in a cultural sense (say, old guys who run our company with which I have little in common beyond language and common employer), and the natural members of my social circle is mostly defined by shared hobbies rather than shared ideologies or psychological makeup.

      So while I’d *also* agree that I have a strong ingroup/outgroup differential in trust, it breaks down much more differently: I’m fairly trusting of the average stranger (because I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and treating them as “probable ingroup”, but not very trusting of many people I know (that are “confirmed outgroup”).

      Thank you- this isn’t something I’d quite realized about my instincts!

    2. Veritea


      I think the best fit for the data is that people who see their ingroup commonly expressed in mainstream culture are the most trusting, with trust decreasing as commonality with mainstream culture decreases.

      Conservatives are the near universal butt of every joke in mainstream comedy, therefore their level of trust is lower

      Communists see themselves as significantly outside of mainstream culture based on perceived near universal acceptance of the capitalistic model, therefore their trust is significantly lower.

  15. Speaker To Animals

    Could you publish the emails of the most trusting? I know a Nigerian prince in need of help shifting money.

    1. Deiseach

      Yeah, that was an immediate reaction on my part, too: well, if some con artist or get-rich-quick merchant is looking for pigeons to pluck, here’s a whole flock of them on here.

      We conservatives will just have to protect our more trusting brothers and sisters here 🙂

      1. toastengineer

        Isn’t that put forward as an evolutionary explaination for the existence of conservatives and liberals? Conservatives are descended from the folks who were standing around on the wall keeping an eye out while the liberals were inside building granaries and schools.

      2. HeelBearCub

        I think this makes a big mistake.

        Let’s suppose I think 99 out of 100 people are trustworthy.

        Let’s also assume that I expect untrustworthy people to be 1000 times more likely to offer me an unsolicited “deal”.

        I will still be very untrusting of any deal that appears from the blue.

        1. DavidFriedman

          To generalize the point …

          If you pick someone at random, he is probably trustworthy. If you create a situation where it only takes one untrustworthy person out of many to harm you, you will probably be harmed.

          It’s the difference between accidentally leaving your wallet in a shop, in which case wallet and money will probably be there when you return, and leaving it out in a place where many pass, often one at a time.

      3. Antistotle

        That people believesthey are, in general trusting doesn’t mean that they don’t have markers and signals that trigger distrust.

  16. Speaker To Animals

    Autism, anxiety, OCD, and drug use all lowered trust; depression and bipolar disorder did not.

    I’d have expected the opposite results on autism and bipolar/depression.

    As an Aspie I tend to take things on trust as it’s frankly exhausting trying to double-guess other people’s motivation.

    On the other hand depressed and bipolar people are generally cynical towards other people.

    1. AutisticThinker

      My autistic approach is the opposite. I basically trust no one and do not expect anyone other than myself to be a non-sociopath. I also expect a minority to be sadists. With no expectation from people I don’t get hurt or surprised when people do turn out to be sociopaths and sadists.

      1. andrewflicker

        Doesn’t that leave you nearly constantly surprised, as the actual prevalence of sociopaths and outright sadists is low? From what I understand of the median autist, they tend to dislike surprise.

        1. AutisticThinker

          No, it does not make me surprised. Maybe this is a coping mechanism to deal with life including surviving reading numerous insults etc on far-right websites run by real sociopaths and sadists.

          I don’t get close to humans which is maybe why I don’t experience genuine kindness a lot? Well I don’t want to establish bonds with humans anyway.

          1. Eponymous

            I don’t get close to humans which is maybe why I don’t experience genuine kindness a lot? Well I don’t want to establish bonds with humans anyway.

            You should try it. I find it is well worth the effort.

            If you want suggestions on where to meet kind people, I’m sure people here will be happy to offer advice.

            I also suggest you avoid websites run by sociopaths and sadists, or people that insult you in general.

          2. DavidFriedman

            I don’t get close to humans which is maybe why I don’t experience genuine kindness a lot? Well I don’t want to establish bonds with humans anyway.

            If you don’t get close to humans how can you persuade them to make more paperclips?

          3. Antistotle

            > If you don’t get close to humans how can you persuade them to
            > make more paperclips?

            Silent Trade?

      2. Murphy

        I vaguely remember some paper looking at decision making in autistic individuals and the Asch conformity experiments.

        One noted trend was that autistic individuals were far more likely to stick to a single strategy. Either always going with the group or always going with their own perception leaving the average not terribly different to the rest of the population.

        Perhaps some autistic individuals settle on an “almost always trust” model while other settle on an “almost always distrust” model.

  17. tmk

    I wonder how much of this is actual differences in trusting version tribal influence. I.e. if in your social group / on your favorite websites people always talk of how untrustworthy others are you’re likely to say people are untrustworthy, even if you are actually a very trusting person.

  18. johan_larson

    Now I’m wondering how trustworthy people in various places actually are, rather than how trustworthy people think they are.

    Seems like this is something that could be studied empirically. Drop some wallets with faked ids and cash in various places, and track how many of them get returned and with how much cash remaining.

    1. Speaker To Animals

      I don’t know why but I find the idea of taking some of the money and returning the wallet more cynical than keeping the lot.

      You’d have to be pretty brazen to hand back part of the contents.

      1. tmk

        From the wallet owners perspective, the worst part is having to block all your cards and get new ones. Only the cash is valuable to the average finder, so I’d rather they keep the money and return the wallet and cards.

        1. CatCube

          At that point, I don’t know if I’d trust that the cards haven’t been copied down or skimmed and handed back. The valuable thing on a credit card isn’t the card itself, after all, it’s the number on it. I’m replacing the cards anyway (except for the IDs), so giving me the money back means at least I’m not out that, too.

          1. stoodfarback

            I expect the average person to not want to commit traceable financial fraud, which requires skill and experience to not get caught. Whereas cash is fungible, and you have an easy excuse that the money has already been taken by someone else when you found the wallet.

      2. Saint Fiasco

        In my hometown, even muggers used to operate on some sort of code of honor. If they mugged you they would take your wallet but if you asked nicely they would return your ID cards. I even got a mugger to let me keep my SIM card once when he took my cell phone.

        Nowadays they don’t do that anymore. I take that as a sign of a reduction in social trust.

    2. Eponymous

      This study has been done many times. Results generally coincide with stereotypes of countries/cities.

    3. Antistotle

      There was a guy who left a bunch of cash on the front seat of a car with the window down. Some level of “serious” money.

      Since this was a show/video I don’t know what the breakdown was, but a LOT more people than you’d think looked in and kept walking.

      A few people took the money, and he chased them down and got it back.

      One guy fumbled around inside the car for a while, and when the camera man confronted him he got indignant.

      He hadn’t taken the money, he had scooped it up and shoved it in the glove box so no one *else* would see it.

      That thing I said above about “With my life, but not my money or my wife?” Turns out Dude was a Marine and had enough integrity for a whole Air Force Squadron all by his lonesome.

  19. Mr Mind

    If some alien civilization didn’t know humans and would have to put a probability on how much, from 1 to 5, humans trust each other, the principle of indifference would force them to choose 3. However, upon discovering this survey, they will be slightly surprised to learn that humans are more trusting than one should suppose.
    Extreme values are rapidly selected out due to game theory consideration, but this would still leave 2-3-4 as possible values.
    The fact that humans are more trusting ties neatly with a book I’m reading now by Graeber, Debt – the first 5000 years, where he analyze primitive societies and concludes that they run on a sort of primitive communism, or primitive centralized distribution, than on the exchange of values and money. This kind of organization, which seems a basic modality of human behavior, requires necessarily that people generally trust each other (but not too much).

    1. Tibor

      Modern families are usually basically communist as well. Command economy works fairly well on a really small scale of a few individuals. It just doesn’t scale well.

      I’d argue that social trust, trusting strangers is way more important in a larger society where interaction is dominated by trade. You don’t need to trust strangers if there are no strangers around and you don’t need to trust strangers if the supreme leader/pharaoh/The Party tells you what to do anyway.

      High level of social trust can be very beneficial in trade. I think that David Friedman cites orthodox Jewish diamond dealers as an example of a group with an extremely high social trust, which is very successful (at least in part) because of that. You trust your fellow orthodox Jews to go by the rules because they are clearly willing to limit themselves in many other ways prescribed by the religion. Because you can trust them you save a lot on various security measures associated with diamond trade and this gives you an edge over the competition.

      1. AutisticThinker

        I personally don’t think that command economy works well at all. To maintain any kind of Communism lots of woo is required.

        1. Mr Mind

          To be fair to Graeber, he explicitely says that what he calls communism (lowercase c) is just denoting a basic impulse or mode of organization of humans, and not the much more intellectual / philosophical political theory of the 19th century (uppercase Communism).

        2. Murphy

          Communism as in holding property communally between 2 or more individuals.

          A large proportion of marriages are basically organized as such and it works quite well without any woo.

          The problems with command economies tend to be largely about breakdown of communication. With a small number of individuals it’s entirely possible for one person to have a good idea what they need, aka mom or dad doing the weekly shopping.

        3. Tibor

          @AuthisticThinker: Well how are finances done in your family? I’d say that in a typical family, the income of both parents is pooled together and then it is distributed to each and their children “based on their needs”. That sounds quite communist to me. But already at the level of an extended family this model starts to break down.

          1. aNeopuritan

            See? You don’t know how Brazilian extended families “work”. “From each according to their ability, to the most useless, toxic assholes.” I suspect the Brazilians you know have mostly-nuclear families, as a symptom-cause of them not being a damn thing like the average Brazilian.

          2. Murphy


            aaaand we’re back to the scaling problem of communism.

            It’s not that it scales cleanly to dunbars number. it falls apart quite a bit before that.

          3. Tibor

            @aNeopuritan: Well, all Brazilians I know are from the south and so also all are white (well, one of them is ethnically Japanese and from São Paulo) and they are all students or former students in Europe, so probably they are not quite average. I don’t know anybody from northern Brazil which is supposedly very poor and mostly black.

      2. Mr Mind

        Modern families are usually basically communist as well

        I would also argue that this is the largest fragments remaining of the original primitive communism. Indeed ancient tribes were much smaller than the societies we have today (Dunbar number FTW!), so they could tolerate a higher degree of trust on the inside. On the outside, they usually traded with money or waged war.
        Graeber paints the story (I’ve yet to read the whole book) of debit / credit-style transactions slowly widespreading throughout different strata of society, so that transactions that required much less trust became possible.

        1. TheEternallyPerplexed

          For the curious who want to learn more about issues of social trust/coercion, I found two books great reading.
          History of social organization: M. van Creveld, “Rise and Decline of the State”. Starts with hunter-gatherers, ends citing “Snow Crash”. 🙂
          Contemporary scopes of trust and ways to maintain it on different levels: B. Schneier, “Liars and Outliers”.

    1. Tibor

      Well, I know two Canadians and I’ve heard rumours that there might be some more, so maybe not?

      1. Protagoras

        The number of Canadians I’ve met personally is in triple digits, and there are reliable reports of more of them, so I’d be shocked if the total number were less than a thousand.

        1. Aapje

          They could have frozen to death between that time and now. Canada is marginally habitable, isn’t it? 😛

          1. Antistotle

            Nah, Global warming fixed that.

            They’re all set to be bazillionaires once the US gets too hot and all the rich people try to move north.

  20. Peter

    Autism, anxiety, OCD, and drug use all lowered trust

    Alternative hypothesis: Autism at least, possibly the others, may affect how people interpret vague and ambiguous questions.

    Come to think of it, people must have researched this, on general principles. Or maybe Feynman’s observations on rats-and-mazes research generalize further than I’d like it to…

  21. Tibor

    It’s a nit pick but still, isn’t it a bit ridiculous to call Brazil non-western? There are not that many countries more to the west than Brazil. Or alternatively, isn’t it a bit ridiculous to use “western” as a codeword for “developed rich country of European cultural origin”?

    On a more important note, I’m a bit concerned about the moderation bit. To me this indicates that something is going on in the way people interpret the question, albeit it is a very simple one. If you trust other people in general, you’d want to have less moderation, not more. It seems like a lot of people interpret it rather as “do you trust authorities”. Not everyone, obviously, as otherwise libertarians would score the lowest. Also, this seems to be contextual as well. A communist might trust communist authorities but not more liberal authorities, similarly for the so called alt-right.

    I’m not sure how distinguish this. Perhaps rephrasing it as something like “how trustworthy do you find random people you meet in everyday life”, albeit that still is not perfect, since many if not all people live in one bubble or another and the “random” people they meet are not really all that random.

    1. meltedcheesefondue

      Urban-rural probably explains this. Urban people are, apparently, more trusting (which probably maps well onto “can you trust a random person you’ve never met and know little about?” – “yes, I have to do that every day”) and also much more likely to approve of general rules (which are necessary in an urban environment).

      1. Tibor

        Do you think communists are more rural? In the Czech republic it might be true, the communists are kind of a “old people party” and the rural areas (although we don’t really have anything as remote as some places in the US, so rural means something like “a city is between 50km and 100km away”) have an older age average. But my idea of a US (the readership here is mostly from the US) communist is rather a young radical from the city, the “gauche caviar” so to speak.

        I’m not sure about general rules. I’d expect there to be more, albeit perhaps unwritten, rules of conduct in a tight-knit conservative rural neighbourhood than in a huge metropolis. I get the general sentiment, but when looking for particular rules, I can’t find many things in which a life in the city would be more regulated, as felt in everyday life by an average person, than village life. Maybe it is different in the US.

        The rules you need more in an urban environment are basically all related to traffic. Those tend to be the same everywhere (albeit in the countryside it is acceptable for youngsters below 15 to take a motorbike to the field or something, whereas in the city that would not be tolerated, but it would not be tolerated in the middle of the village either). There are some special things such as lining up on one side on the escalator in the underground, but those are actually unwritten rules that arise spontaneously and enforced by social pressure rather than any definite authority.

        Trusting random strangers is a different thing where I’d say you really do see differences between urban and rural environments. But that still does not explain the calls for more or less moderation. Maybe that is simply that the less trusting people skew more radical – the only non-mainstream political view which is trusting are the libertarians (but I’d expect them to be the biggest opponents of more moderation on average). Other radical political opinions – communists and extremist social conservatives – are simply afraid their views would be labeled as offensive and moderated away. Someone kind of left-centreish like social democrats (or “social democrats light” – i.e. what Americans call liberal) is not going to be afraid of that and most people simply don’t like to have to deal with views they don’t like or find offensive, except for libertarians who’d go against their own philosophy if they supported censorship. A convinced communist in a communist state (not many of those) would probably support increased moderation even more, ditto for radical conservatives.

        If that’s right then it is quite peculiar and somewhat sad. People generally do trust strangers, but they want to insulate themselves from their opinions. On the other hand it is probably better than if they didn’t want to interact with strangers at all.

        1. disciplinaryarbitrage

          The rules you need more in an urban environment are basically all related to traffic.

          You also need significantly more codified rules (not necessarily laws, but ‘codified ways of doing things’) related to:

          – Land development (not just because of traffic, but also many more categories of impact on neighbors, load on other infrastructure e.g. water and sewer)
          – Policing (crime is crime, but more systems are needed to control it in a city of strangers than a town where everyone knows everyone and you can easily round up the usual suspects)
          – Noise (more potential impacts if your nearest neighbor sleeps 15 feet away than if they’re a half-mile down the road)
          – Waste disposal (for an illustration of what happens when you fail to consider this, walk around NYC on a hot summer day)
          – Parking (traffic related, yes, but much more regulated in urban centers)

          Plus a system for how to pay for the above, select and vet the employees or contracted service providers providing the above, and so forth.

    2. Aapje


      It’s a nit pick but still, isn’t it a bit ridiculous to call Brazil non-western? There are not that many countries more to the west than Brazil. Or alternatively, isn’t it a bit ridiculous to use “western” as a codeword for “developed rich country of European cultural origin”?

      From a geographical point of view it makes no sense at all to declare any part of the world to be West or East, as a sphere that rotates around the north-south axis has no part which is permanently on one side, when looking from the sun.

      The reason why the West is called the West is merely an artifact of its Eurocentric origins, where European maps had Europe on the left and Asia on the right. From a non-European perspective it doesn’t make sense, because Africa is to the south of Europe, so it is just as much to the West as Europe.

      So the terms ‘West’ and ‘East’ are actually implicitly limited to about the area of the map above the 30th parallel north. This is why neither Africa or Brazil count as part of the West from a geographical point of view.

      Or alternatively, isn’t it a bit ridiculous to use “western” as a codeword for “developed rich country of European cultural origin”?

      The problem is that more specific terms are going to be considered to be very insulting. ‘Western’ is so bland that it isn’t too offensive in itself.

      1. Besserwisser

        Fun side-note: the west wasn’t always on the left on maps. Medieval maps for instance used to to have Asia at the top, Europe at the bottom left and Africa on the bottom right.

        1. Aapje

          And Jerusalem in the middle. For example, the Hereford Mappa Mundi.

          However, these maps typically had a religious purpose as well, including places like paradise and Noah’s Ark. They typically were inconsistent with the geographical knowledge of the time.

          My strong impression is that limited technology made it impossible to create a map encompassing the entire world that was accurate, so those who wanted accuracy resorted to regional portolan charts, which were useful for travel.

          Then once Mercator projection was discovered, these regional maps could be combined into a useful world map.

          1. Besserwisser

            As inaccurate as older maps were, they got the cardinal directions mostly right if you accept that north is to the left. And I’m not quite sure when people began to talk about East and West or orient and okzident in the way we do today but it doesn’t necessitate west on the left of a map.

      2. Tibor

        I’m pretty sure Australia is not above the 30th parallel north and it is usually considered as a “western” country, which is perhaps even more ridiculous than Brazil not being a part of the west. The only difference between Brazil and Australia is that Australia is rich and Brazil is relatively poor (they are both former colonies of European countries and their cultures are largely of European origin). If west is used to mean “developed and rich (and not Asian)” then it is no less offensive than just calling it that outright.

        I don’t think that “developed countries” is too offensive. Or you could use the “3 worlds” terminology, but that is a bit outdated since it was useful only during the cold war (in particular there are no 2nd world countries any more and Finland or Austria are 3rd world which has no real meaning today).

        And you’re right, from the geographical perspective it is equally arbitrary to call Alaska western and Kamchatka (which is west of Alaska) eastern, but I could understand the word “western” if it meant roughly “culturally of European origin” where Russia is so specific that it is excluded, or one can simply go back to the division of the Roman Empire and the Catholic/Orthodox schism which is probably the main reason Russia is so specific. So essentially western makes sense to me as an umbrella term for cultures which stem from catholic and protestant countries in Europe. But then all of America (North and South) is western and it makes sense to call Australia a western country. Latin America is of course culturally somewhat different than Europe (which is not very homogeneous itself), but so is Canada and the US (albeit in a different way). Still they have all vastly more in common than Europe has with Asia or Africa. So really the difference is that those former colonies that are well-off nowadays are called “western” and those that are less well-off (although Chile is not doing so bad for example and Argentina used to be as rich as Canada) are somehow excluded (in order not to tarnish the brand? :-)) And why western in the first place? Well, pretty much all European colonist expansion was to the west (in the sense the closest distance when traveling from Europe is to the west), but I’d be fine with finding a different one-word term for “of European cultural origin”.

        I don’t want to seem like I’m being too PC but this nomenclature just seems a bit strange to me for the reasons above.

        1. Aapje

          When a categorization has two definitions, one of which is geographic and the other is about traits, this happens because the overlap is high. Most people accept some inaccuracy at the margins. In other words, Australia is fudged in.

          “Developed countries” is rude, because it calls other countries un/underdeveloped. This is insulting in the same way as dividing people into intelligent and dumb people. You can argue that these terms merely reflect objective differences, but insulting connotations are present as well.

          “Developed countries” is also inaccurate, because Japan/S-Korea/etc are frequently excluded from ‘The West’ even though they are highly developed.

          I see the fuzziness as a feature, really. For example, I can use “Western” to communicate with someone who defines the term as referring to colonialist white supremacist nations. I don’t have to accept that person’s beliefs for us to be able to use “Western” as a term that refers to the same group of nations.

          So really the difference is that those former colonies that are well-off nowadays are called “western” and those that are less well-off (although Chile is not doing so bad for example and Argentina used to be as rich as Canada) are somehow excluded (in order not to tarnish the brand?

          I think that it’s more that Canada, the US and Australia have a disposition that is much more like European countries than like Brazil or Chile. In so far that wealth plays a role, I think it’s more that wealth made them more European.

          1. Tibor

            @Aapje: I think that Canada, the US and Australia, all being former British colonies, have a much more northern European disposition (and they are even more similar to each other). But Argentina, Brazil or Chile are much closer to Spain or Portugal (no big surprise there), or southern Europe in general. To me, Southern Europeans definitely seem closer to Latin Americans in their mentality and culture than to US Americans or Canadians.

            Instead of developed and undeveloped, people often talk about developed and “developing” countries. A lot of the “developing” countries really seem to be developing, some are rather not. I don’t know how Brazilians or Mexicans think about it, but I imagine I would feel more annoyed by being excluded from the western civilization than by being called a “developing country”. The culture of all of those countries is mostly of (southern) European origin, particularly on the east coast of southern America where there really wasn’t any civilization to speak of before the European colonists arrived and which was rather sparsely populated (in this it mirrors Australia or Canada, except for the century colonization begun). This might be different in say Peru where they actually had a complex civilization before the 15th century and where the population also remained more native ethnically.

        2. Lambert

          What about the five-way classification?
          That’s the one that I find best fits the 21st century world.

          Rich, Industrialised Countries (Western Europe, USA, Australia, Japan etc.)
          Newly Industrialising Countries (China, India etc.)
          Oil Exporting Countries (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela etc.)
          Former Centrally Planned Countries (Bulgaria, Russia etc.)
          Heavily Indebted Countries (most of Sub-Saharan Africa, S. America etc.)

          1. Aapje


            Your categorization is quite weird. Japan has more debt than S. America (10 times more than Chile, for example). Russia is a major oil exporter. Western Europe and the US had central planning during WW 2.

            In general I get the feeling that you first sorted the countries and then came up with a vague category, but applying the categorization in the other direction would not result in the same grouping.

          2. Antistotle

            The US is a Rich, Industrialized country which exports oil and natural gas and has a 18 trillion dollar debt.

      3. moscanarius

        I am not sure whether we should be discussing this (interesting) semantic side topic so extensively here, but here is my take:

        I am Brazilian; from what I understood, Tibor is not*, but he captured quite well the way we talk about Western and developed countries down here. We consider Brazil to be part of the West, together with Western Europe, all of the Americas, and Oceania – that is, Western Europe plus the areas they actively colonized and where their culture is hegemonic. Ultimately, if I wanted to be fancier, I would say we are calling “Western” every country whose culture is heavily descended from that of the Western Roman Empire.

        What Americans call “The West” (and basically maps to “wealthy countries where most people are white”), we commonly call either First World or developed/rich countries – as opposed to Third World or subdeveloped/underdeveloped/developing countries. These are our standard terms, and as far as I know no one finds them to be offensive (except the perpetually offended, but they are a lost case); I am a bit surprised that you consider them so insulting. Instead, some people in Brazil would take offense at not being counted as western, given our obvious genetic (some 60% of the gene pool) and especially cultural (some 9% of all that matters) connection to Southern Europe.

        Also, I am a bit confused by what you mean by saying Canada and Australia have a more European disposition (?), unless you are saying they are whiter or safer. In terms of culture, these two countries certainly have a more Northern European disposition, but Western Europe also includes Portugal, Spain, and Italy, to which Latin America is closer in culture (as much as these three countries hate to admit it).

        *though the mention to “gauche caviar” makes me wonder…

        1. aNeopuritan

          Who is this “we”? If you want a majority of Brazilians, that would be not knowing what the West is. Many Brazilians, knowing that or not, would like to live in an actually Western country instead of Brazil. (And those who wouldn’t exchange Brazil for anything, also many, tend to be, as this would suggest, quite aware that their country doesn’t resemble the West.)

          Do you think of the UK as a “Rome-descended country”? Really?

          Is Tonga Western?

 – Brazil being the only one that had to copy someone else.

          1. Tibor

            In a vague sense, I do consider the UK as a Rome-descended country in the same way Russia is a Constantinopole-descended country. The Roman empire was the single most influential factor in European history, first directly and then through religion (and the schism which wouldn’t have happened had the Empire not have lost Rome) which then influenced culture a lot.

            There is a big difference between Tonga and Brazil in that the population of Tonga is mostly native, the population of Brazil descends mostly from the colonists, the slaves they brought but especially later immigrants who were mostly European (with a notable Japanese minority).

            Gauche caviar is a more international term, if you want to be fancy when talking about fancy “aristocratic left” (which is a term I like even better but I don’t know how common it is). Maybe esquerda caviar would be used in Brazil?

          2. John Schilling

            Do you think of the UK as a “Rome-descended country”? Really?

            Well, the Romans did found a piddly little town called “London”, but I’m sure that had no great influence on the subsequent cultural development of the British Isles.

            Yes, Roman Britain was later conquered by barbarians of various sorts. Roman Rome was later conquered by barbarians of various sorts, as was literally everything else Roman except the bits that wound up being conquered by Moslems. The essence of Western civilization is Roman-Barbarian cultural fusion, and the British got a particularly good selection of barbarians.

          3. moscanarius

            …aware that their country doesn’t resemble the West

            I think you misunderstood the topic. I am not saying Brazil is the same as the US and Europe, and I am not denying that our country is VERY different from England or Denmark (and worse on most aspects). I am saying that the criteria for calling a country “Western” are different in the US and in Brazil, and that while the American set of criteria calls Brazil non-Western, ours includes us among the western nations (though NOT among the wealthy, developed nations, for obvious reasons).

            Italy is very different from Ireland, and everyone still recognizes both as Western; saying that Brazil is “different” is not enough; it has to differ in those things that characterize a country as “Western”. That is the discussion: what difference, if any, exists in the criteria.

            Who is this “we”? If you want a majority of Brazilians, that would be not knowing what the West is

            We, the middle class people who have time to spare on discussions about civilization and semantics. That is, the same subpopulation of the American people that comment on blogs like this. You don’t think we are discussing the meaning of “West” with the average American on this board, right?

            …to live in an actually Western country instead of Brazil

            That’s true, if by “Western” you mean what Americans mean: wealthy developed countries where most people are white. The ones which we call “developed” or First World (minus Japan): US + Canada + Australia + Western Europe.

            But what we have been discussing here is that the term “West” maps different things in different countries. In Brazil, whenever someone says “The West” they mean a group of countries that includes Brazil. Our right wing pundits will harangue about them commies trying to destroy the Western values – and they don’t mean American values. Our rabid leftists scream about how terrible the patriarchy of Western culture is, and they are not referring to the British. All of our mainstream cultural discourse refers to us as part of the West, closer to the US and Europe than to Africa or Asia (quite rightly).

            I mean, if you are Brazilian too, this will not be difficult to understand: whenever you see someone wanting to leave the country, do they say they want to go to the West (Quero sair do país e ir morar no Ocidente), or do they say they want to go to a developed country? Do you hear anyone using the word “West” to mean what it means in the US? Do people around you act as if Western things (like the Portuguese language, or Christianity, or eating bread) were foreign things (like sushi or Hinduism)?

            Do you think of the UK as a “Rome-descended country”? Really?

            I do. And so do the British, in my experience (quite a number of them seem to even think English is derived from Latin…). Most of their culture, including the unique parts of it, derives from templates of the late Roman Empire, though by more indirect means than in France or Spain. More than half of their language came from Latin and French, and Romance influence is seen also in grammar and word formation. Britain has been Roman Catholic until the 16th century, when she broke away from Rome – and is still part of Western Christianity. Traditional British education demanded students to learn Latin (this dropped in the 80s!) and was heavily loaded with the writtings of Roman authors, not those of Hengist and Horsa. Heck, the motto of the British Monarch is “Dieu et mon droit”.

            Is Tonga Western?

            No, and the answer is the same by both definitions of West we have been discussing here: it is neither wealthy nor developed, its native population is mostly Austronesian, and its culture is still mostly native. It has never even been an European colony!

            I don’t understand why you would ask that.

            By the way, if you are to answer this try to be civil. Let’s not turn this light-hearted debate in this wonderful garden into one of those flamewars that made Brazilians hated all over the Web.

          4. Aapje


            That’s true, if by “Western” you mean what Americans mean: wealthy developed countries where most people are white. The ones which we call “developed” or First World (minus Japan): US + Canada + Australia + Western Europe.

            If white were the criterion, Eastern Europe would definitely qualify as well, but it doesn’t.

            I think that ethnicity plays a role by virtue of nations like US + Canada + Australia being so overwhelmingly ethnically Western European that you’d be hard pressed to identify Native American/First Nations or Aboriginal elements in mainstream culture.

            I also think that US + Canada + Australia + Western Europe have a sense of us vs them, which doesn’t exist with Brazil or Chile. I can’t speak for how Brazilians or Chileans look at this, but there is a difference between wanting to be part of a group or to be accepted by the group members.

          5. moscanarius


            If white were the criterion, Eastern Europe would definitely qualify as well, but it doesn’t.

            The criteria I laid was white AND wealthy AND developed. These last two disqualify most of Eastern Europe. You may argue that a cultural criterion is missing, and that is fair… but it would qualify some countries you do not consider Western.

            there is a difference between wanting to be part of a group or to be accepted by the group members.

            Yes, absolutely, but this is not the topic we raised. If I have not been clear, let me state it: I am not trying to lecture Americans on How Their Definition Of West Is Wrong and How They Need To Amend It. Your definition works for your purposes, and I can fully appreciate why you call “West” only the rich, developed, European-derived group of countries. Americans do have a lot more in common with Spain than with Chile, due to wealth, development, military colaborations and a certain interlocking of economies bringing similar political and economical challenges to the first two countries.

            What I and others have been saying is (1) that this is not the only one possible definition of West (which you acknowledged), and (2) that this is not the definition people use in Brazil, or in the rest of South America, regardless of what Americans think about it. People here talk about “The West” as also including all the countries in the New World, mainly because of the colonial history and present day ties to Europe.

            This has nothing to do with asking permission to join a club; rather, it is just an explanation of how sometimes clubs with the same name can have different rules of membership. If I somehow mention that Brazil is Western in the US, people will be confused; their definition of West does not include Brazil. But if you come to Brazil and call the country non-Western, it is you who are going to get some funny looks – as West, here, includes us.

            And just as I can’t (and shouldn’t. And don’t really want to) change the way Americans use the word “West”, it would be hard to change the way it is used elsewhere. Regardless of any “permission”, conservatives in Brazil will keep complaining about the left destroying Western mores, progressives will keep complaining about the woes of Western civilization, and so on. No permission required, as this is just a semantic difference.

        2. Tibor

          I’m not Brazilian, I’m Czech. I know a couple of Brazilians, all of them from the south. It seems to me that moscanarius is a southerner and aNeopuritan is not? All I know about northern Brazil is what the Brazilians I know told me and its culture seems to be more African than European, I guess?

          1. moscanarius

            I see you have inside info, then… 😉

            Indeed, I am a southerner. But Telminha is from the North, and she also agrees with you. Let’s wait and see what aNeopuritan will tell us.

            Northeastern people and culture tend to be more African than Southern people and culture, but I would be careful not to exagerate the differences – they exist, but they are more like the differences between Northern and Southern United States than between any two European countries. We southerners sometimes are guilty of exaggerating them a bit (but I am not saying your friends are like this, of course).

            The genetic difference exists, but it is like 50% of northeastern gene pool being from Europe, against 75% of the south (there have been studies on this, but they don’t perfectly agree on the numbers. Also, admixture is a thing); so it is not like we had a black North and a white South – far from this, really.

            Cultural differences also exist, with the Northern parts having preserved somewhat more indigenous and African traditions – somewhat. Certainly in their food, perhaps in some religious traditions, but I don’t think in much more. Most of the differences are that kind of unique developments that make Texas different from New York – and which is enough to arise a lot of mutual animosity, unfortunately.

          2. Tibor

            @moscanarius: All Brazilians I’ve every met, except for one Brazilian (who is Japanese) are ethnically European. In fact, they often look more “white” than the Portuguese or southern Spanish do, since they are usually descend from Italian, French and sometimes even German 19th century immigrants who have not really mixed with the natives at all or only very little (much like some US Americans who are white as a sheet claim to be 1/16th Cherokee or whatever). A friend of mine visited Portugal recently and she said people were really surprised she was not from northern Europe (everyone automatically started talking English to her at first), although I think it is mostly because she is quite pale, she has southern European features like dark brown hair and eyes and somewhat “mediterreanean” features otherwise. But in a sense, many southern Brazilians are more “white” (in the literal sense – they are more pale) than some southern Europeans, the Portuguese and Andalusians are particularly relatively dark due to the Moorish genetic influence.

            But the fact that all Brazilians I know are European is probably telling – the people who can afford to travel and study abroad (and perhaps more importantly – who can afford a good school in Brazil so that they are educated enough to be accepted at a good university abroad) are almost entirely European (or East Asian I guess) whereas the poor people are mostly Subsaharan African. But this seems to be similar in the US.

    3. jessriedel

      > On a more important note, I’m a bit concerned about the moderation bit. To me this indicates that something is going on in the way people interpret the question, albeit it is a very simple one. If you trust other people in general, you’d want to have less moderation, not more.

      This sounds like the same mistake as reasoning “If you don’t trust people you should want more state interventions”. But the government (and moderators) are made of people. We should expect trust to be correlated with collectivism, not individualism.

      In other words, they didn’t misinterpret “people” to mean “authority”, they just don’t think drawing a circle around a group of people and labeling them “authority” makes them more trustworthy than they were before.

      1. Matthias

        This sounds like the same mistake as reasoning “If you don’t trust people you should want more state interventions”. But the government (and moderators) are made of people. We should expect trust to be correlated with collectivism, not individualism.

        I think that’s actually a perfectly good articulation of why we should be suspicious of any a priori correlation. Political differences are about what kinds of institutions we want to do what things, and all the institutions in question are made of people.

        1. jessriedel

          Not sure I understand. Different people might have honest different beliefs about the nature of humans, and these might reasonably inform their political opinions. The fact that this is borne out does not mean we obviously need to question the meaningfulness of the answers.

          Obviously, you can think that the question may have prompted people to think about their political beliefs, and these beliefs are so warping that they biased the answers and kept us from finding out what we wanted to know about the subject. But this wasn’t what was being argued in the comment I replied to, where the commenter said the respondents were being inconsistent.

    4. Telminha

      Oh, we are not considered part of the western civilization? Be careful, remember that we are the largest producer of your favorite type of drug. 😉

      I don’t know how Brazilians or Mexicans think about it, but I imagine I would feel more annoyed by being excluded from the western civilization than by being called a “developing country”.

      As a Brazilian, I agree with this.

        1. Telminha

          My impression was that coffee was America’s favorite type of drug. If it is not, then our evil plan of turning everyone into morning zombies is canceled.

          On a different note, I tried several recipes from your Medieval cookbook. I tried them using my instant pot; I think this is probably a type of sin, but they turned out very good. The “Picadinho de Carne de Vaca” recipe was my favorite.

      1. The Nybbler

        My favorite drugs come from Colombia and Venezuela. Well, and Puerto Rico, but their production crashed a while ago and is probably going to be zero after this hurricane.

        (Coffee, chocolate, and coffee again respectively)

        1. Telminha

          I like your drug trio. I think that Colombian coffee tastes slightly better than Brazilian coffee.

          Coffee + L-theanine is my preferred drug/supplement combo. Coffee helps with my depression, but worsens my anxiety and OCD; L-theanine balances out the side effects of the caffeine.

      2. Antistotle

        > remember that we are the largest producer of your favorite type of drug.

        Ibuprofen? That’s made lots of places.

        > My impression was that coffee was America’s favorite type of drug.

        Caffeine is not a drug, it’s an Essential Vitamin. But there’s lots of ways to get it. Coffee is but one.

        1. sconn

          I think there are four: coffee, tea, yerba mate, and cola. None of them comes from North America!

    5. aNeopuritan

      I’d sooner call Japan Western than Brazil. Source: am Brazilian. What I’d certainly call Western is the countries with a Protestant legacy (includes yours) – likely Austria and Slovenia too. When Cultures Collide (excellent) has a threefold model, where I’d just say “linear-active countries, plus Finland [said there to have secondary linear-active tendencies]”. The Hajnal Line also approximates that (though Ireland and Finland became 100% Western).

      1. Tibor

        You are Brazilian but other Brazilians here seem to be of a different opinion. You also seem to be very passionate about this particular view. I get that Brazil is full of corruption and has a lot of problems, but Spain was a dictatorship until the late 70s and Portugal until the 80s. Czechoslovakia as well as Slovenia were communist until the late 80s and so was a third of Germany. Greece had a military dictatorship until the 80s as well (or 70s? I’m not sure). But culturally, all of those countries are usually regarded as “the west”, so Brazil should be too IMO. Or do you think Portugal or Spain are closer to the US in culture than to Brazil or Argentina? In my experience they are not. They might resent the connection to Brazil simply because Brazil is relatively poor (Spanish sometimes even look down on Portugal), but that’s just what people do, they don’t want to be associated with their poor cousins but that does not stop them being cousins. But I don’t want to sound too confrontational, maybe you have a good reason not to consider Brazil a western country but then I’d like to hear your explanation as to why.

        As for the other things : Austria and protestant? Austria, or rather the Habsburg monarchy which ruled over Austria at the time, was the foremost champion of counter-reformation. The conflict between the catholic Habsburg king and his mostly protestant Czech vassals was what started the 30 years’ war. I don’t know much about the history of Slovenia, so I can’t talk about them. Without the Habsburg influence, southern Germany and the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia) would have probably become solidly protestant the way northern Germany and Scandinavia did.

        Also, by your definition, are Spain, Portugal or Italy not a part of the west? There were hardly any protestants there (and when they were, they were promptly dealt with).

    6. Anthony

      From an American POV, Brazil has only a small area that’s in the same time zone as the Atlantic seaboard; the rest is further east. That makes it non-Western, just like Europe.

  22. thepenforests

    It’s Torontonians, fwiw.

    But interesting! I’m not sure what to make of communists being so much less trusting than other leftists.

    1. Aapje

      Communists tend to see behavior as exploitation that capitalists see as mutually beneficial exchanges, so it makes perfect sense to me that they would be less trusting.

      1. Besserwisser

        Social Democrats tend to see it similarly and they’re the most trusting. I’m going to assume it has to do with the self-stated difference between the groups, that one would rather reform the social and political system from within and is therefore more trusting while the other aims to overthrow it and therefore distrustful. But I also could have argued the other way that communists believe we could construct a world where everyone works for the good of each other and it’s never good to be able to argue both ways.

        1. Aapje

          Social democrats don’t see capitalism as inherently exploitative, but as fairly fixable with strong regulation and wealth transfers.

          The real question is not why social democrats are way more trusting than communists, but why libertarians aren’t way more trusting than everyone else.

          1. Besserwisser

            Libertarians think it’s possible and preferable that people worked for their mutual benefit but that doesn’t mean they find those people trustworthy just that a system where every person works for their own benefit will make mutual benefit more profitable.

          2. Aapje

            The defining trait of libertarians may be optimism / a belief in the just-world hypothesis, rather than trust.

          3. toastengineer

            I mean, I’m pretty sure the reason I’m aligned so well with mainstream libertarianism is that I read a lot of libertarian arguments and they sounded really good.

            It seems to me like libertarianism is less “oh yeah people will just work together, coordination problems don’t really exist” and more “you can build a system so that people will usually tend to behave pro-socially without just putting guns in everyone’s faces and demanding it.”

          4. adrian.ratnapala

            The question “are people basically trustworthy?” has a potential ambiguity.

            It could mean (a) “are people, as individuals (but on average) basically trustworthy”. Or it could mean (b) “are people, manifested in all kinds of ways both collective and individual, basically trustworthy”.

            My guess is that libertarians and left-liberals would both mostly answer “yes” to (a). And I suspect left liberals would do the same for (b), moreover I suspect they don’t find the distinction very salient and wouldn’t think of it unless prompted. Whereas we liberatrian types will see the distinciton and have a rather more negative answer for (b).

            But that in itself is interesting if true. Since free-market theory is all about how humans, collectively, do a good job of serving other humans without intending to do so individually.

          5. adrian.ratnapala

            @toastengineer: as someone who probably agrees with you on most things political, let point out some disagreements on things fundamental.

            First: you say “you can build a system so that …” , but actually none of us is in a position to build the system of society. Not even if we were kings or prophets.

            Second: pointing guns is not really very central. Not even Ghengis Khan ruled by his own perosnal bow. Instead he used his bow to build an organisation that people cooperated with, given the threats and promises at hand.

            Military monopoly is not the definition of the state, rather it is a corollary to the state being the powerful thing that everyone wants to cooperate with — and which gets to be powerful because everyone does so cooperate. Military organisation is just one manifestation of that cooperation.

    2. Vamair

      One explaination may be that communists are less trusted than the other leftists. On the other hand, shouldn’t that be similar for atheists.

    3. Protagoras

      Everybody here should be sophisticated enough to think of the left-right axis as hopelessly oversimplified, so there’s no particular reason to expect it to correlate with any other proposed continuum. Still, if we’re trying to find implausible spectra with which the trust spectrum correlates, it looks to me like the politics numbers line up pretty well with good=low numbers and evil=high numbers; on that scale communism seems perhaps insufficiently high, but it has at least been appropriately placed near the top.

    4. Saint Fiasco

      Communists are more authoritarian than social democrats, so it makes sense that they would be less trusting.

      Social democrats trust that subtle government intervention is enough to nudge people into making good economic decisions, while communists think complete centralized control of the economy is needed to prevent Molochian competition.

      1. pozorvlak

        Yes, that observation fits well with Altemeyer’s work on “Right-wing authoritarianism” (see also his pop-sci book, which I wish everyone would read). High scores on the RWA scale correlate with distrust of the outgroup, and (in Canada and the USA, where the scale was developed) with right-wing politics; but when they ran similar experiments in Russia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, they found that high RWA scores correlated with doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist politics.

        “Communists who grew up in the Soviet Union” is obviously a rather different group to “communists visiting an English-language website in 2017”, and it’s hard to see why high-RWAs would visit Slate Star Codex at all (other correlates include aggression, trust in authority, compartmentalized beliefs, and difficulty reasoning logically), but I still think the communism/distrust correlation is really measuring underlying levels of authoritarianism. Even absent societal pressure to adopt communism (high-RWAs are strongly affected by societal pressure), I’d expect them to be drawn to it as an ideology and (more importantly) as a movement.

      2. sconn

        I think you are right. Communism isn’t right-wing, but it is authoritarian. People who are distrustful of human nature always prefer authoritarianism. When I question authoritarianism, they always call me naive for trusting that people can get along without a whole lot of managing. And perhaps I am — I’m pretty trusting.

    5. Matthias

      There are only twenty communists-per-the-default description who also let their survey data be public and gave Trustworthiness responses – enough that if you adjusted the answers of two of them they’d be identical (within granularity constraints) to the social democrats. (A chi-squared test makes it look like this different is still significant, though, fwiw.) I think it was a poor description and that the version in the most recent LessWrong survey was probably better. (I can’t recall the exact wording but it was something like “public ownership of the economy, controls to ensure the political dominance of labor,” which is more charitable and specific than “state control of many aspects of life.”)

      I could throw together a construct with them and all the bespoke permutations of “anarcho-communist,” though eyeballing it the latter group is even smaller on their own and around the same central tendency of 2-3 as everyone else, so I wouldn’t read too hard into those particular tea leaves.

      Political spectrum responses have a small correlation (0.125) with trustingness, e.g.:

      . table PoliticalSpectrum, c(m Trustworthy sd Trustworthy)

      Political |
      Spectrum | mean(Trustw~y) sd(Trustw~y)
      1 | 2.3333333 1.103079
      2 | 2.3725054 .9608088
      3 | 2.3562067 .8990017
      4 | 2.5160255 .9477018
      5 | 2.4646926 .9353567
      6 | 2.5845864 .9753975
      7 | 2.5481799 .9931806
      8 | 2.6805112 .9936515
      9 | 2.8108108 1.022595
      10 | 3 1.136283

      I had an intuition that the correlation might be stronger if you controlled for religion, but it makes very little difference.

      . table PoliticalSpectrum spiritual, c(m Trustworthy)

      Political | spiritual
      Spectrum | 0 1
      1 | 2.3396227 2.3157895
      2 | 2.3735633 2.368932
      3 | 2.3575525 2.3481781
      4 | 2.4959569 2.595855
      5 | 2.5029762 2.3366337
      6 | 2.6217008 2.5157895
      7 | 2.594306 2.489011
      8 | 2.6912751 2.6707318
      9 | 2.6046512 2.9411764
      10 | 3.0217392 2.9705882

      . by spiritual: cor PoliticalSpectrum Trustworthy

      -> spiritual = 0

      | Politi~m Trustw~y
      PoliticalS~m | 1.0000
      Trustworthy | 0.1203 1.0000

      -> spiritual = 1

      | Politi~m Trustw~y
      PoliticalS~m | 1.0000
      Trustworthy | 0.1352 1.0000

      (where “spiritual” is a dummy var with atheist and nonspiritual agnostics==0 and all other positive responses==1)

      1. Douglas Knight

        if you adjusted the answers of two of them they’d be identical (within granularity constraints) to the social democrats.

        I don’t think adjusting is a good way to think about it. You seem to be adjusting a 5 to a 1 and another 5 to a 2. I think you should think of such an adjustment as a composite of 2 atomic steps: dropping and adding. So this is 4 atomic steps. Also, what do you mean by “identical”? Perhaps you should drop the third 5, since if you round the social democratic level of 5s is less than half of the 1/20 granularity.

        It is easier for two distributions to be significantly different than for their means to be significantly different. In fact, the communists were bimodal, with more 5s than 4s. Bimodality is not meaningful with such small samples, but the social democrats had 5x as many 4s as 5s. If we think in numeric terms, rather than categorical, 3 of your 4 steps were extreme steps: dropping two 5s and adding a 1. If we assume that there is no sampling error in the social democrats and ask how 20 person samples are distributed, which is not continuous. The communists are slightly less than 2 standard errors from the mean. 3.8% of samples are as high as the communists, of which 2.2% are higher and 1.6% are exactly the same.

        But, yes, small samples and multiple comparisons.

    6. carvenvisage

      “communism” = marxism = the idea that the world needs to be forcefully reordered because people will never share their blessings, -an us against them vision of the world.

      I’m sure people who live in communes would have a lower score.

    7. Anthony

      Hypothesis: It’s people’s experiences. People who have mostly benefited from the current political structures are more likely to trust others, because lots of faceless bureaucrats haven’t seriously fucked them or their friends over. People who have been fucked over by government, or society, are likely to have oppositional political beliefs and lower trust in people in general.

      This also explains the correlation with blog moderation. People with political beliefs that are a minority among readers of this blog are less likely to trust others, even Scott, to moderate fairly without discriminating against their political views.

  23. 6jfvkd8lu7cc

    almost as if they didn’t trust people to accurately interpret the binned choices

    Or the other way round. How do you expect us to trust people for whom the proposed options make any kind of sense?

  24. blacktrance

    IIRC, I answered 3 because it’s in the middle, but my real answer is that it’s a bad question. Some people are highly trustworthy and others not at all, some people can be trusted in some contexts but not others, etc – the territory is very heterogeneous, so this kind of scale loses a lot of information.

    1. 6jfvkd8lu7cc

      Yes, there are problems with building a single scale.

      Trusting to say the truth about past facts, trusting to keep promises (which includes making sure the promises are feasible to keep in the first place), and trusting to judge the situation correctly — they are all different, and all about trustworthiness.

      1. Rachael

        I took the question to mean “people are basically well-meaning and not out to get you.”
        I think of reliability as different from trustworthiness. A good person with a bad memory and poor organisational skills is trustworthy but not reliable.

        1. blacktrance

          One person’s “well-meaning” can be another’s “out to get you”. I’ve met a significant number of people who really are well-meaning for their definition of the word, in a way that made me wish they were less well-meaning.

          1. Deiseach

            I’ve met a significant number of people who really are well-meaning for their definition of the word, in a way that made me wish they were less well-meaning.

            “She’s the sort of woman who lives for others — you can always tell the others by their hunted expression”. C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

    2. Aapje


      There are many situations where you don’t yet know how trustworthy a person or group is and you still have to make a choice how far to trust them. To me, it seems valid to compare that willingness to trust without strong evidence for how trustworthy that specific person/group is compared to others in society.

      For example, imagine Alice, who is willing to wire a certain amount of money to a seller on craigslist, expecting the seller to send the item, rather than stiff her. Now imagine Jess, who refuses to pay unless the item is already delivered to her, either by post or in person. I think that it is fair to say that Alice probably* believes that unknown sellers are more trustworthy than how Jess sees them.

      * Technically this is not the only explanation for this difference in behavior.

    3. Antistotle

      Back when I was a Marine there was a saying “I’ll trust you with my life, but not my money or my wife”.

  25. AutisticThinker


    Scott, may I ask what is the average trust score of autists and non-autists? I wasn’t around when the survey took place. If I were able to do it I would put 4 or 5 there.

    I’m also interested in the general level of autistic traits (not just autism) of the SSC community. Maybe we can have the Aspie Quiz or some other test next time (I’m concerned that we may violate the copyright of Simon Baron-Cohen to reuse his AQ if we use it for a purpose other than research)?

      1. AutisticThinker

        Really thanks! I think this might be because predicting neurotypical behavior is harder for autists on average compared to neurotypicals. It’s hard for me to trust sentient beings (i.e. humans) that do not make too much sense.

        1. sconn

          Also that autistic people are much more likely to be bullied, in part because of the not-being-able-to-read-people thing, and in part because they act “weird” and neurotypicals, especially as kids, tend to police conformity. So almost all autistic people are dealing with many, many memories of being mistreated.

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