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Generalized Trust and Intelligence in the United States

Generalized trust refers to trust in other members of society; it may be distinguished from particularized trust, which corresponds to trust in the family and close friends. An extensive empirical literature has established that generalized trust is an important aspect of civic culture. It has been linked to a variety of positive outcomes at the individual level, such as entrepreneurship, volunteering, self-rated health, and happiness. However, two recent studies have found that it is highly correlated with intelligence, which raises the possibility that the other relationships in which it has been implicated may be spurious. Here we replicate the association between intelligence and generalized trust in a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. We also show that, after adjusting for intelligence, generalized trust continues to be strongly associated with both self-rated health and happiness. In the context of substantial variation across countries, these results bolster the view that generalized trust is a valuable social resource, not only for the individual but for the wider society as well.
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