The Royal Society, Royal Society Open Science, 6(8), p. 202104, 2021
Full text: Download
Social trust and income are associated both within and across countries, such that higher income typically correlates with increased trust. While this correlation is well-documented, the psychological mechanisms sustaining this relationship remain poorly understood. One plausible candidate is people’s temporal discounting: on the one hand, trust has a strong time component—it exposes the individual to immediate costs in exchange of uncertain and delayed benefits; on the other hand, temporal discounting is robustly influenced by income. The goal of our studies was to test whether temporal discounting mediates the relationship between income and trust and whether experimentally manipulating perceived income has a downstream impact on temporal discounting and trust. To do so, participants who underestimated their relative income position received information about their true position in the income distribution in order to correct their misperception. Our results indicate that temporal discounting partially mediates the effect of income on social trust in a pre-registered online study on British participants ( N = 855). However, receiving a positive information shock on one’s income position had no impact on either temporal discounting or social trust. In a second pre-registered study, we replicated the finding that temporal discounting partially mediates the effect of income on social trust in a representative sample of the British population ( N = 1130).