Ego-tribalism in religion, politics, and media : a changing landscape calls for a new theory of trust.


Scholarship on individual manifestations of social trust typically emphasize three theoretical frameworks: rational choice, psychological/epistemological capacity, or network distribution. In this dissertation, I argue that these approaches have limited explanatory power, and instead put forth a new theory of trust that harmonizes and improves on them. I submit ego-tribalism as a new model for understanding social trust, where egocentrism and tribal identities are often in tension. Several hypotheses are drawn from this framing and are tested in three separate studies. Using data from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey, I analyze the impact of Internet usage, moral authority, and religiosity on generalized social trust. I find that moral individualism is negatively associated with social trust. Increasing religiosity is not significant, challenging previous research that suggested religiosity predicts an increase in generalized trust. Also, moderate religiosity amplifies the effects of a judgmental God-image on social trust relative to high religiosity. The theory of ego-tribal trust distribution illustrates how individual religiosity and moral authority relate to generalized trust as they depend on levels of self-interest vis-à-vis tribal bonding over certain beliefs and behaviors. A second study uses data from the 2021 Baylor Religion Survey to explore the effects of political identity, generalized trust, social media usage, and increased online political activism during COVID-19 on the belief a political party threatens the unity of the United States. An increase in social trust predicts a lower probability of perceived outgroup threat. Increased social media usage is not predictive but an increase in online activism predicts lower trust. Online activism amplifies the effect of political liberalism but not conservatism. This I suggest, is an effect of liberal ideological tribalism in concert with unilateral disclosure of personal sentiment. Data for the final study also come from the 2021 Baylor Religion Survey. I analyze the extent to which beliefs about mainstream media and the consumption of politically biased media predict distrust of the COVID-19 vaccine. Consumption of conservative media is associated with distrust in the vaccine. Believing media exaggerate the dangers of COVID-19 significantly attenuates the negative effect of education on distrust of the vaccine. Increasing age significantly attenuates the effect of conservative media. Older conservatives are exposed to the tribal narrative that predicts distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine, but self-interest to protect personal health overrides that influence. I conclude the dissertation with a summary of findings, a review of ego-tribalism, and avenues for future research.