Christoph Henking

BIO

Coming from Germany, I completed my BSc at the University of Konstanz in the south of the country. Since then, I have become excited to bridge academic research and its real-world implications, having gained work experience at the World Health Organization and in public sector consulting. I believe that the disciplines of social psychology and behavioural economics should have a confident voice in the research of large societal issues - such as the perceptions and consequences of economic inequality. Now, I am looking to work in consulting or public policy, and plan to pursue a Ph.D. in the near future.

DISSERTATION

The psychological implications of economic inequality: Understanding the roles of social trust and individual perceptions.

Supervisor: Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington

Recently, psychological science has started to investigate the mechanisms between economic inequality and social-psychological outcomes. A prominent finding is the decline of social trust – measured by the affirmation of the questionnaire item “generally speaking, most people can be trusted” – alongside the rising Gini index for income inequality, particularly in wealthy countries. However, this line of research has neither clarified the role of trust in different societal groups (who does trust in “most people” refer to?), nor sufficiently considered the importance of perceived rather than objective inequality. This paper will address these gaps using a two-step multi-method approach.

 

In the first study, data from the World Value Survey (N = 24,286) across 21 high-income countries was employed to develop a multilevel regression model with Gini and GDP as country-level predictors, and specific types of trust (ingroup, outgroup and institutional trust) as individual-level predictors of life satisfaction. Contrary to the expectations, only the different types of individual-level trust, but not economic inequality, predicted life satisfaction.

 

Secondly, an experimental online-study presented participants (N = 246) with information to increase their perception of inequality, before measuring their trust in an ingroup and outgroup member in a behavioural trust game. While neither of the experimental manipulations significantly affected the trust-related choices, the study reveals a novel link between trusting behaviour and questionnaire-measured attitudinal trust.

 

The findings are critically discussed in light of prior research, which may have oversimplified the causal mechanism between inequality and psychological outcomes across the societal and individual levels of analysis.

© 2019 by The DisCo Initiative 

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