Measuring Generalized Trust: Two New Approaches

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The Stranger Face Trust (SFT) questionnaire and the Imaginary Stranger Trust (IST) questionnaire are two new self-report measures of generalized trust that assess trust in real (SFT) and imaginary (IST) strangers across four trust domains. Both were designed to be objective, empirically valid, and easy to administer and score. To assess measurement validity and reliability, SFT and IST along with other common measures of social trust, sociodemographic characteristics, biographical characteristics, and a survey experiment were administered to a large representative sample of Qualtrics web-panel members (N = 2,041). Confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation models established the internal consistency, convergent validity, discriminant validity, and criterion validity of SFT and IST. Further tests revealed that SFT and IST correlate with well-established predictors of generalized trust, while other correlates like the age–trust relation were called into question. Taken together, this article shows that SFT and IST are valid and reliable instruments for the measurement of generalized trust and that common measures of generalized trust appear to be less valid and less reliable. This article ends with a discussion of the implications and directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-356
Number of pages52
JournalSociological Methods and Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • confirmatory factor analysis
  • generalized trust
  • measurement validation
  • social trust
  • structural equation models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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