Diego Gambetta and Davide Morisi have just published the article “COVID-19 infection induces higher trust in strangers” on the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Most research has found that natural catastrophes result in an increase of trust and cooperativeness. But what about a catastrophe whose diffusion occurs by contact with other people, such as COVID-19? In their paper, Davide and Diego address this question by studying the effect of the COVID-19 virus on interpersonal trust in Italy, one of the countries hardest struck by the pandemic.
They rely on an original panel survey, including a survey experiment, spanning over a period of almost a year. Their experimental findings reveal that priming Italians about the risk that the pandemic poses to their health leads to a substantial increase in their trust in strangers. Furthermore, panel data analysis shows that those who become infected trust strangers more than those who are not infected.
These findings could be explained by people observing higher than expected altruistic behavior or becoming more dependent on other people’s support, consistently with the “emancipation theory of trust”. These results are in line with longitudinal studies showing that interpersonal trust increased in different countries at the beginning of the pandemic. Despite disrupting human lives, the pandemic does not seem to have disrupted interpersonal relations.
The full article is available in open access mode here.