All Against All: How Beliefs about Human Nature Shape Foreign Policy Opinions



Although the American public’s increasingly cynical views about human nature have drawn considerable attention from scholars, existing research says little about how interpersonal trust shapes mass foreign policy opinions. This study analyzes survey data to test the claim that citizens use their beliefs about human nature to reason about international affairs. The results indicate that cynical citizens are more likely than trusting citizens to endorse the principle of isolationism and to oppose cooperative forms of intervention in other nations’ problems. Citizens’ use of interpersonal trust as an information shortcut helps them to make inferences regarding a topic about which they typically know little, but such inferences are not necessarily realistic ones.