In the absence of enforceable contracts, many economic and personal interactions rely on trust and reciprocity. Research shows that although this reliance often works well, sometimes it breaks down. Simple rules mandating minimum standards on reciprocation prevent the most egregious trust violations, but may also undermine behavior that would have otherwise produced higher overall economic welfare. We test the efficacy of exogenously imposed minimum return rules using experimental trust games. We find that rules fail to increase trust and trustworthiness. Thus low minimum standards significantly decrease economic welfare. Although sufficiently restrictive rules restore welfare, trust and trustworthy behavior never returns.
Rietz, T.A., Schniter, E., Sheremeta, R.M., & Shields, T.W. (2011). Trust, reciprocity and rules. ESI Working Paper 11-06. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/esi_working_papers/102