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New Survey: Americans Don’t Trust One Another Anymore

A record high number of Americans admit that they do not trust one another.  In an AP-GfK poll conducted last month, nearly two-thirds of all respondents said that “you can’t be too careful,” when asked if they trusted their neighbors in everyday situations.

Some even claimed that they are suspicious of most people around them.  “I’m leery of everybody,” Bart Murawski said. “Caution is always a factor.”

He added that he thought most people were motivated by greed to get what they want, even at a high cost to others. “Everybody wants a comfortable lifestyle, but what are you going to do for it? Where do you draw the line?”

The loss of trust may be linked to a changing social dynamic that has Americans spending more time on the computer alone and less time socializing and working together.

“Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam explained trust was built with a “long civic generation” that developed strong social bonds in bowling leagues, lodges and community socials.  Today, many of those opportunities to come together are gone as Americans spend more time on the internet and other isolated activities and less time in communal pursuits.

New research from New Zealand helps explain how these communal activities popular in the past may have helped to build trusting relationships that today’s internet users cannot get online. The study found that the singing, dancing and other unison activities common at social gatherings actually help people have more generous feelings towards one another and trust each other more.

During the study, participants were asked to join in a chant or motion activity that encouraged unison behavior.  Afterwards, the subjects were asked to participate in a proven trust exercise where they were given $5 and the option to put the money in a communal pot. According to the rules, if most people contributed the full $5 to the pot, the pot would be doubled.

After participating in communal activities, the amount of persons giving the money to the pot increased, suggesting that generosity and trust was linked to the “shared intentionally” gained in the cooperative exercise.

Thomas Sanders, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar claims tapping into the power of communal activities, as demonstrated in the New Zealand study, is the key to getting America’s trust in one another back.

“A lot of it depends on whether we can find ways to get people using technology to connect and be more civically involved,” Sander said. “The fate of Americans’ trust is in our own hands.”

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Creative Commons

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.