Trust, cooperation, and market formation in the U.S. and Japan

Michael W. Macy, Yoshimichi Sato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Compared with the U.S., Japan is believed to have a collectivist culture that nurtures high trust. Results from laboratory and survey research, however, show that Americans are more likely to trust strangers than are Japanese. Why would trust be lower in a collectivist culture? We use an agent-based computational model to explore the evolutionary origin of this puzzling empirical finding. Computer simulations suggest that higher social mobility in the U.S. may be the explanation. With low mobility, agents rarely encounter strangers and thus remain highly parochial, trusting only their neighbors and avoiding open-market transactions with outsiders. With moderate mobility, agents learn to read telltale signs of character so that they can take advantage of better opportunities outside the neighborhood. However, if mobility is too great, there is too little trustworthiness to make the effort to discriminate worthwhile. This finding suggests that higher mobility in the U.S. may explain why Americans are more trusting than Japanese, but if mobility becomes too high, the self -reinforcing high-trust equilibrium could collapse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7214-7220
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
Publication statusPublished - 2002 May 14

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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