Cross-cultural questionnaires

Storr cites studies that attempt to study trust as a factor in social capital, and thus in development. Typically, these studies ask questions such as, "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?" (Understanding the culture of markets, p. 39.)

But wait a second? Aren't what it means to "trust people,"or what it means that "you can't be too careful," themselves going to be culturally defined phenomena? Why should we blithely except that the "same" answer provided by two respondents from significantly different cultures mean the same thing to each of them?

In particular, won't someone from a "high trust" culture be likely to have higher standards for what it means to trust someone than would someone from a "low trust" culture? For the first respondent, trusting someone might mean letting them sleep in one's house. For the second, it might mean not fearing that the person will kill you if you meet them on the road.


  1. Good point. I generally hate "survey science" because the questions asked are never the questions answered, and this is another case in point.

    We all know about priming effects etc. Do we know how they work cross-culturally? I bet we do not.


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