In my wild erratic fancy, visions come to me of Clancy

Do you think that rural Australians are more likely to trust one another? I did. But a new experiment from the CSIRO suggests otherwise.

An experimental approach to comparing trust in pastoral and non-pastoral Australia
McAllister RRJ, Reeson AF
It is generally held that rural Australians are more cooperative in character than their urban counterparts. To explore one aspect of this notion, we conducted an experiment that compared trust and trustworthiness among a sample of Australian senior high school students, which included students with both pastoral and non-pastoral backgrounds. While student behaviour is unlikely to mimic adult behaviour, any significant differences between pastoral and non-pastoral students would suggest differences do exist between the social norms that guide pastoral and non-pastoral communities. Our results concurred with other studies in showing that social distance is an important determinant of the level of cooperation. We repeated our experiment at three different schools containing students from both pastoral and non-pastoral backgrounds, allowing us to draw comparisons. In total 78 students participated. Our experiments were based on similar experiments that have been applied across a range of contexts internationally (trust game/investment game). We did not find evidence of differences between students with pastoral and non-pastoral backgrounds, either in the level of trust in others or in trustworthiness, though our methods probably have a bias towards this conclusion.

I’m still not quite sure why the CSIRO are doing experimental economics, but I find this stuff fascinating. Apparently CSIRO and ANU even have a Canberra-based ‘lab’ for doing these experiments, though I’m not sure who uses it.

(By the way, if the title of this post befuddles you, click here.)

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6 Responses to In my wild erratic fancy, visions come to me of Clancy

  1. Kevin Cox says:

    I find it interesting that you wonder why CSIRO are conducting experiments in rural behaviour and that think it is labeled “experimental economics”.

    A few weeks ago I was a subject in a focus group conducted by some very pleasant people from the CSIRO who I expect are part of the Canberra-based group you refer to. They wanted to understand community attitudes to using water from water harvesting projects for outdoor and indoor activities such things a gardening, street trees, ovals, etc. They have promised to give the participants access to the final report and that should be very interesting.

  2. Louise Staley says:

    The authors of this paper appear to have couched the research questions in an odd way to measure their introductory remarks about testing whether “popular perception that rural communities are more cooperative than urban communities.” p.2

    To test such a proposition would require some sort of testing within communities rather than taking people out of their community and testing whether farming people trust/are more trustworthy than non-farmers. In the case of farmers, community is above all other characteristics geographically based.

    The authors appear to find that farmers are more trusting of their neighbours than others: “while students from pastoral backgrounding consistently expected to receive and send more with ‘someone in the area where they live’” p.9

    Yet this finding is dismissed. Furthermore, the introductory remarks about their focus on “whether resource uncertainty foster a culture of trust, or more specifically in terms of the Australian context, do individuals in rangelands develop different views on governance?” p. 1 is completely at odds with the choice of school students to test this idea.

    Like you Andrew I am not at all sure why the CSIRO is attempting research in this area. As someone who has undertaken focus groups on related questions in rural Australia I know it is possible to study trust within communities and in fact the social capital literature which these authors seem to be unaware of is replete with such research.

  3. ChrisPer says:

    The whole point of the vaunted trust is based on network behaviours; you help out, others help you out, the individuals recognise mutual obligation as they go on. Those who break trust expose themselves, and in rural communities do not have the opportunity to repeatedly exploit newcomers that are easy to find in urban areas. The network then leaves them out.

    Students are disconnected from that; they are only just beginning to form networks, and pastoral students at school are in any case well separated from family and neighbours that recognise their place in the network.

  4. invig says:

    ChrisPer: Indeed. And it raises the thought that we have a ‘norm’ of behaviour that persists regardless of our environment. Which makes one wonder if ALL humans cannot be modelled simply as network-participants, and it is the PREMISE of the network itself that is important, not WHO is a member of it.

    (I love it when a thesis comes together:)

  5. harry clarke says:

    I didn’t read the paper but what a totally vacuous conclusion. We didn’t find any relationship but our methods were probablybiased toward this conclusion. The ‘probably’ adds the final touch of indeterminacy.

    For the life of me I cannot see the value of much of this type of work.

  6. christine says:

    And I sometimes rather fancy / that I’d like to change with Clancy …

    But I doubt I’d last more than about an hour of droving, especially the helicopter version :) Still, a tempting thought given it’s snowing outside here.

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