Markus Freitag, Richard Traunmüller
Spheres of Trust. An Empirical Analysis of the Foundations of Particularized and Generalized Trust

European Journal of Political Research, 2009: 48, Heft 6, S. 782-803
ISSN: 0304-4130

While the literature on trust has produced various conceptual models, there is also some confusion concerning different types of trust and their formation. In this article, three contested points are empirically clarified. First, are there really different forms of trust as much of the literature suggests? Second, if so, then how are these different types of trust related to each other? Third, what are the foundations of these different forms of trust? Relying on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, it is concluded that two types of trust can be empirically identified: an intimate trust in people close to the truster, as well as an abstract trust in people in general. Although these types of trust constitute separate dimensions, they are positively related to each other. Furthermore, this article challenges the widely held assumption that experiences are most relevant for particularised trust, while generalised trust is based on psychological predispositions. It is argued instead for a sphere-specific logic of trust formation: It is the radius of experiences and predispositions that matters for the radius of trust. Finally, the analysis goes beyond the existing research by highlighting hitherto unknown conditions under which trust in familiar domains is more or less likely to extend to generalised trust.