Original Paper

Political Behavior

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 205-230

First online:

A Genetic Basis for Social Trust?

  • Patrick SturgisAffiliated withDivision of Social Statistics, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton Email author 
  • , Sanna ReadAffiliated withCentre for Population Studies, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • , Peter K. HatemiAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of Iowa
  • , Gu ZhuAffiliated withGenetic Epidemiology Unit, Queensland Institute of Medical Research
  • , Tim TrullAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Missouri
  • , Margaret J. WrightAffiliated withGenetic Epidemiology Unit, Queensland Institute of Medical Research
  • , Nicholas G. MartinAffiliated withGenetic Epidemiology Unit, Queensland Institute of Medical Research

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A propensity to believe that fellow citizens will not act against our interests in social and economic transactions has been identified as key to the effective functioning of democratic polities. Yet the causes of this type of ‘generalized’ or ‘social’ trust are far from clear. To date, researchers within the social and political sciences have focused almost exclusively on social-developmental and political/institutional features of individuals and societies as the primary causal influences. In this paper we investigate the intriguing possibility that social trust might have a genetic, as well as an environmental basis. We use data collected from samples of monozygotic and dizygotic twins to estimate the additive genetic, shared environmental, and non-shared environmental components of trust. Our results show that the majority of the variance in a multi-item trust scale is accounted for by an additive genetic factor. On the other hand, the environmental influences experienced in common by sibling pairs have no discernable effect; the only environmental influences appear to be those that are unique to the individual. Our findings problematise the widely held view that the development of social trust occurs through a process of familial socialization at an early stage of the life course.


Social trust Genes Genetics Twin studies Social capital