Not Trusting Others Farther Than We Could Throw ’em takes

Surveys routinely find people crediting themselves with higher-than-average moral standards. It sounds like boastfulness on the part of respondents, but may instead reflect their suspicions that other peoples’ standards are abysmally low. Numerous respondents to a survey conducted for the Pew Internet & American Life Project certainly look askance at others. In the chart below, note that respondents were passing judgment on “Most people.” It wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see four in 10 folks saying “many” people would try to take advantage of them, but it’s stunning that so many are so suspicious of “most” of their fellow human beings. Elsewhere in the survey, respondents were asked whether they believe “most people can be trusted” or “you can’t be too careful in dealing with people.” On that question, 32 percent deemed most people trustworthy (down from 45 percent in a 1997 poll); 61 percent were of the can’t-be-too-careful school (up from 52 percent). It’s striking that distrust rose in a period when crime was sharply falling. Might it be a perverse consequence of the economic boom? When we’re prospering, perhaps we’re more apt to feel others are ready to fleece us. And when other people aremaking overnight fortunes, the rest of us tend to suspect they must have pulled the wool over someone’s eyes. In any case, advertising practitioners can take solace in knowing the distrust aimed at them is part of a broader phenomenon.