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Digital Oxytocin: How trust keeps Facebook, Twitter humming

In Tech on July 19, 2011 at 11:15 am

By Adam Penenberg

The most surprising takeaway from the recent Pew Research Center study, “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives,” wasn’t that 80% of Americans regularly use the Internet or that 60% of web users have a social network account–double the number in 2008, with the vast majority on Facebook (52%) and Twitter (33%). Nor is it that people have gone gaga over smartphones, with one in three Americans owning one. Rather, it’s the idea that the Internet, in particular social networks, engender trust, and the more time you spend on them the more trusting you become.

As the report put it, “The typical Internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted,” with regular Facebook users the most trusting of all. “A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other Internet users and more than three times as likely as non-Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.” What’s more, while the average American has two “discussion confidants”–people they discuss important matters with–Facebookers who log in several times a day average 9% more close ties.

This has significant implications, because far from being merely a touchy-feely concept tossed around at a Zen retreat, trust goes to the heart of our economic and social systems. Neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont College and author of the forthcoming book, The Moral Molecule: Vampire Economics and the New Science of Good and Evil, says that trust is the lubricant that makes economic transactions possible. It wasn’t until European…

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