ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (3): 415-426.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.00415

Previous Articles    

The Influence of Trustees’ Social Identity Complexity on Their Trustworthiness

XIN Ziqiang;XIN Sufei   

  1. (1 Department of Psychology at School of Social Development, Central University of Finance and Economics, Beijing 100081, China) (2 Institute of Developmental Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China)
  • Received:2012-11-27 Published:2014-03-25 Online:2014-03-25
  • Contact: XIN Ziqiang


Trustees’ trustworthiness is a precondition of other people trusting in them, which may be influenced by trustees’ social identity complexity. Previous literature has revealed the impact of single social identity on trustworthiness; however, few studies have examined how the multiple social identities of a trustee affect his or her trustworthiness rated by others. The structure of multiple social identities can be measured in terms of social identity complexity, a concept proposed by Roccas and Brewer in 2002, which refers to the way in which individuals subjectively represent the relationships among their multiple ingroup memberships. Concretely, individuals with low social identity complexity see their ingroups as highly overlapping and convergent, whereas those with high social identity complexity see their different ingroups as distinct and cross-cutting membership groups. Roccas and their colleagues merely concerned how individuals perceive their own social identities, but neglected how they represent other people’s social identities. Moreover, social identity complexity not only reflects humans’ mental representation of their own or others social identities, but also represents one’s factual quantity of social identities. In our opinion, the quantity of social identities can be defined as an index of objective social identity complexity, which role has never been paid attention to. The present study expanded Roccas and Brewer’s ideas of social identity complexity and examined how trustees’ objective social identity complexity (single social identity vs. multiple social identities) affected people’s judgment towards trustees’ trustworthiness. In Study 1, we tested the main influence of trustees’ social identity complexity on their trustworthiness. The experiment was carried out in sleepers of a train traveling from Beijing to Yantai city. Sixty train passengers were enrolled and randomly assigned into two conditions to read a news report about a Volkswagen car (a middle-class brand) crash respectively: one group read the report depicting the driver’s single social identity (low complexity), whereas, the other group read the report depicting the driver’s multiple social identities (high complexity). After reading, they rated the driver’s trustworthiness and social distance between themselves and the driver (trustee). The results showed that trustees’ high social identity complexity effectively reduced social distance, and led participants give a higher remark on trustees’ trustworthiness. That is to say, social distance mediated the impact of trustees’ social identity complexity on their trustworthiness. In Study 2, we examined the moderating effect of trustees’ group category on the impact of social identity complexity and social distance on their trustworthiness. One hundred and twenty college students were randomly assigned into one of four conditions in a 2 (trustees’ social identity complexity: high vs. low) × 2 (trustees’ group category: ingroup vs. outgroup) full-factorial design. The experiment materials in this study were same to Study 1, except that we used two distinct car brands (ALTO vs. BMW) to manipulate trustees’ group category (ingroup vs. outgroup). More specifically, ALTO as an under-class brand, its driver would be perceived by college students as an ingroup member; whereas, BMW as a top-class brand, its driver would be an outgroup member. The results confirmed the findings of Study 1 that trustees’ social identity complexity had a positive effect on their trustworthiness and the relationship between the two variables was mediated by social distance. Moreover, the main effect of social identity complexity and the mediating effect of social distance were moderated by the group membership of trustees, and the two effects merely occurred for outgroup trustees rather than ingroup trustees. The present study provided new findings about the correlates of trustees’ trustworthiness, more importantly, which enriched the theory of social identity complexity and previous research. Besides the theoretical contributions, the present study also had great practical implications for making people’s judgment objective and promoting the positive intergroup relationships.

Key words: social identity complexity, trustworthiness, social distance, ingroup, outgroup