, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 109-128

Trust, social categories, and individuals: The case of gender

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While the cooperate vs. defect choice in the prisoner's dilemma is not an appropriate paradigm for the study of trust and trusting behavior, the play vs. not play choiceis. We show that femalesas a category are more trusted to cooperate — by both male and female judges — than males. Yet neither male nor female judges use gender to predict cooperation from particular individuals (trust) or as a criterion for choosing to play (trusting behavior) when they have the option of not playing particular prisoner's dilemma games. Further, in our experimental context, female and male did not differ in their cooperation rates. We speculate (a) that subjects' generalized expectations are a response to gender-based role differences outside the laboratory, (b) that subjects' failure to make individual-by-individual discriminations by gender is a response to the fact that the experimental context made such natural-world roles irrelevant, and (c) that our findings about the irrelevance of genderper se in trusting relationships will be true for other social categoriesper se.

The research reported in this paper was supported by the National Science Foundation grant SES-9008157 to Orbell and Dawes; any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Pamela Ferrara played an important role in administering all stages of the experiments; Jean Stockard gave us a helpful methodological and substantive critique; and Debbie Elvin, Tom Morikawa, Matthew Mulford, and Catherine Shatto each helped at several stages of the paper.