Via Tyler Cowen, an interesting paper (ungated PDF here) comparing trust in the Arab Middle East (Jordan, Saudi, UAE) and in the United States:

“Mechanisms aimed at mitigating the cost of betrayal, such as damages or insurance provision, seem to work better in the United States, and arrangements focusing on preventing the occurrence of betrayal, such as a punishment threat, have greater impact in the Arab Middle East.”

Lots of interesting results.  Folks in the UAE needed longer, more sustained displays of trustworthiness before they were willing to trust.  High rates of insurance (reduced cost of betrayal) crowded out trust for Jordanians, but not Americans.

I found the results for punishment particularly interesting.  Saudi Arabians increased their trusting behaviour when there was some system for punishing defection (from 47% with no punishment system to 68% when some form of punishment system was used).  By contrast, a punishment system crowded out trust for Americans.  With no punishment, 77% of American participants trusted their partner.  When a system of punishment was used, under 62% trusted their partner.

Hard to know if this is driven by cultural values (Arab middle-easterners approach trust issues differently as a cultural difference), or as the result of some structural variable (for example, widespread corruption in Saudi Arabia erodes generalized trust).  It would be interesting to run these analyses with some attitudinal variables as covariates and see if the effects persist.