Understanding the trust deficit in China: Mapping positive experience and trust in strangers

Jingjing Yao, Zhi Xue Zhang*, Jeanne Brett, J. Keith Murnighan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The observation that in China people generally do not trust strangers motivated us to study this phenomenon. We used the literature of guanxi to define strangers, and we drew on intergroup contact theory to hypothesize that positive experiences with outgroup, but not with ingroup members will increase trust in strangers. In three experiments we found that perceiving support from (Study 1), receiving help from (Study 2), and being trusted by (Study 3) outgroup members led to higher trust in strangers. Indirect reciprocity mediated this relationship, suggesting that people generalize experiences with one outgroup member to other social actors, and in turn, increase their trust in strangers. Study 4 showed that intrapersonal trust increased after a positive outgroup experience. Study 5 replicated this finding using secondary field data. This research contributes to the trust literature by showing how specific and eventful experiences increase trust in strangers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-97
Number of pages13
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • China
  • Differential modes of association
  • Indirect reciprocity
  • Intergroup contact
  • Trust in strangers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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