Pieces and dice on a Ludo board

A recent study by Emeritus Professor of Family Demography John Ermisch, and associate member of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, finds that having strong family ties with your parents or adult children discourages the development of trust in strangers.

The Social Psychology Quarterly paper replicated a binary trust-game experiment that originally took place in 2007. Designed by authors Ermisch and Gambetta, the game tested trustworthiness among a sample of British participants.

The more recent experiment involved an online game with 141 US participants which tested how trusting or trustworthy a player was, based on their in-game actions.

After playing the game, participants provided information about their family ties and demographics. The intensity of family ties was measured by the frequency of contact with a close relative such as a parent or adult child.

The experiment was further manipulated to create two trust environments, one encouraging trust and trustworthiness and one discouraging them. This allowed the researchers to test their original hypothesis in diverse conditions.

Study figure
The experiment manipulates the trust environment by changing payoffs.

The findings were consistent with a causal relationship between the strength of an individual’s family ties and their distrust of strangers, but only in an environment which encouraged trust and trustworthiness.

Professor Ermisch explains that people with weak family ties are more trusting of strangers than people with strong family ties, but only when there is a sufficiently large number of strangers who are trustworthy.

Find out more in this news story.

Original Publication: Ermisch, J., Gambetta, D., Iacono, S. L., & Sonmez, B. (2023). Trust and Strength of Family Ties: New Experimental Evidence. Social Psychology Quarterly, 0(0).