On the Relation Between Trust and Fairness in Environmental Risk Management


*Address correspondence to Timothy C. Earle, Psychology Department, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, USA; timearle@cc.wwu.edu.


In this study, we empirically examine the relations between trust, fairness, and cooperation within two environmental risk management contexts, one in which the focal issue is of high personal moral importance and the other in which the focal issue is of low moral importance. Using an experimental design embedded in two parallel survey questionnaires, one mailed to residents of Washington State, the other to German-speaking residents of Switzerland, we either manipulated or constructed three factors, issue importance (high/low), procedural fairness (fair/unfair), and policy outcome (risk averse/risk accepting). This design enabled us to compare the predictions of the standard account of procedural fairness, that trust and cooperation are determined by judgments of fairness, with the predictions of an alternative account, that trust and cooperation will be determined by judgments of procedural fairness only when the issue involved is not morally important. Results for the American case showed that under conditions of high issue importance, policy outcome affected judged fairness, trust, and cooperation. Under conditions of low issue importance, policy outcome had no effect on judged fairness or trust but did have a moderate impact on cooperation. Analyses also showed that when issue importance was high, procedural fairness had no effects. When issue importance was low, procedural fairness had moderate effects on judged fairness and trust. Results for the Swiss case replicated the main findings for the American case. Together, these results support the alternative model of the relation between trust and fairness, suggesting that the efficacy of fair procedures is strictly limited.