Pilot experiments on trust

The UNIVE unit, submitted at the end of February a literature review entitled “Survey on experiments about trust and collaborative vs conflictual language”. The review assesses empirical work on causal determinants of trust in social media contexts, bridging different literatures and traditions of empirical research on trust. The review highlighted that, in social media, contexts and processes impact the causal determinants of trust, where, specifically, homophily and in-group/out-group bias seem to play a major role.

To pilot the experimental work on the role of homophily, the UNIVE team worked to overcome some methodological challenges mainly linked to finding a trade-off between control and realism in an experimental setting trying to model social media. In fact, lab experiments using trust games focus on dyads of subjects, while the scalability of the interactions in social media is way larger. To proxy social media relations, we decided to map participants’ seating arrangement by allowing an unrestricted seating arrangement while measuring on a 1-7 how much time subjects spent with those sitting next to them. To test homophily and in-group/out-group bias we tried to recreate social media affordances by creating a shared sense of identity. Affordances describe what a person can do within social media (technical affordances) and outside (social affordances).


We started piloting the experiments planned for the second year of the project within a 2-hour teaching module to local high school students based on the topics of SoMe4Dem. The target population is quite an interesting cohort: they are digital and social media natives, with one or no previous experience with voting. Moreover, this cohort tends to be overlooked in experimental studies since usually scholars focus on university student or adult populations. This cohort is 17-18 years old and is approaching voting for the first time, and studies have shown that the first voting experience tends to predict the future ones. Over 200 students participated in the activity, with 4 groups of students coming from the same school (a technical institute focussed on tourism and marketing, n=189). Preliminary analysis supports the role of homophily in determining trust and suggests further avenues to understand how this shared sense of identity can be created and maintained in social media.