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Are competent actors still trusted when they promote themselves? The answer to this question could have far-reaching implications for understanding trust production in a variety of economic exchange settings in which ability and impression management play vital roles, from succeeding in one’s job to excelling in the sales of goods and services. Much social science research assumes an unconditional positive impact of an actor’s ability on the trust placed in that actor: in other words, competence breeds trust. In this report, however, we challenge this assumption. Across a series of experiments, we manipulated both the ability and the self-promotion of a trustee and measured the level of trust received. Employing both online laboratory studies ( n = 5,606) and a field experiment ( n = 101,520), we find that impression management tactics (i.e., self-promotion and intimidation) can substantially backfire, at least for those with high ability. An explanation for this effect is encapsuled in attribution theory, which argues that capable actors are held to higher standards in terms of how kind and honest they are expected to be. Consistent with our social attribution account, mediation analyses show that competence combined with self-promotion decreases the trustee’s perceived benevolence and integrity and,more »Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 26, 2023
Trust is key to understanding the dynamics of social relations, to the extent that it is often viewed as the glue that holds society together. We review the mounting sociological literature to help answer what trust is and where it comes from. To this end, we identify two research streams—on particularized trust and generalized trust, respectively—and propose an integrative framework that bridges these lines of research while also enhancing conceptual precision. This framework provides the springboard for identifying several important avenues for future research, including new investigations into the radius of trust, the intermediate form of categorical trust, and the interrelationships between different forms of trust. This article also calls for more scholarship focusing on the consequences (versus antecedents) of trust, addressing more fully the trustee side of the relation, and employing new empirical methods. Such novel approaches will ensure that trust research will continue to provide important insights into the functioning of modern society in the years to come. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 47 is July 2021. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.