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The decision to trust encompasses evaluation of multiple information cues that are used by evaluators to make inference about the trustee’s qualities and capabilities. The information about the social status of the trustee firm is one of such cues available to evaluators. Yet the relationship between perceived social status of the trustee and the evaluator’s trust remains underexplored. In two experimental studies, we (1) find a non-linear relationship between a firm’s status and the evaluator’s trust, and (2) test theorized mechanisms that can explain this relationship. The paper reveals that firms having low, middle, and high status are not only trusted differently, but are trusted for different reasons: qualities, such as perceived benevolence and integrity, mediate higher trust for middle-status firms, while trust for high-status firms is mediated by ability and integrity. The findings thus suggest that in the assessment of an organization’s trustworthiness, the relative importance of a particular virtue, such as ability, benevolence, or integrity, varies depending on the status position of that organization.
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