The development, escalation and collapse of system trust: From the financial crisis to society at large

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This theoretical outline sketches the development, escalation and collapse of trust in expert systems, using the recent financial crisis as an example, but aiming at the description of broader underlying mechanisms. After reviewing the literature on the genesis of system trust, it identifies spirals of system trust that escalate both “vertically” (actors placing too much trust in the system) and “horizontally” (wider and wider circles of actors placing trust in the system). Both the apparent stability and the potential for collapse inherent in these spirals results from the fact that system trust is typically more distant, and consequently lacks some of the safeguards present in interpersonal trust. Ironically, thus, attempts to eliminate the influence of trust by introducing impersonal rule systems may increase rather than reduce the risk posed to systemic stability.

NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in European Management Journal. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in European Management Journal [33, 6 (2015)] DOI: 10.1016/j.emj.2015.08.001

© 2015, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-437
JournalEuropean Management Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Due to publisher policy, the full text is unavailable on the repository until 28th September 2017.


  • System trust
  • Trust in expert systems
  • Confidence
  • Trust and modernity
  • Trust crises
  • Financial crises

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