Trust Among Thieves

A new paper by Federico Varese and Paolo Campana looks at police-intercepted phone data on the Italian and Russian mafia to study how criminals cooperate. In  "Cooperation in Criminal Organizations: Kinship and Violence as Credible Commitments" (abstract; PDF), they find that sharing information on violent acts increased cooperation. Varese writes to us in an email: "The idea is that criminals might trust each other more after they have shared compromising information on themselves and especially have used violence together, an insight from Thomas Schelling that we test and found to be correct."

The abstract:

The paper argues that kinship ties and sharing information on violent acts can be interpreted as forms of ‘hostage-taking’ likely to increase cooperation among co-offenders. The paper tests this hypothesis among members of two criminal groups, a Camorra clan based just outside Naples, and a Russian Mafia group that moved to Romein the mid-1990s. The data consist of the transcripts of phone intercepts conducted on both groups by the Italian police over several months. After turning the data into a series of network matrices, we use Multivariate Quadratic Assignment Procedure to test the hypothesis. We conclude that the likelihood of cooperation is higher among members who have shared information about violent acts. Violence has a stronger effect than kinship in predicting tie formation and thus cooperation. When non-kinship-based mechanisms fostering cooperation exist, criminal groups are likely to resort to them.

The Advantages of Looking "Trustworthy"

We've blogged before about the many advantages of being beautiful.  New research indicates that looking "trustworthy" carries some benefits as well:

In a paper recently published in the PLoS One journal, researchers from Warwick Business School, the University College London and Dartmouth College, USA, carried out a series of experiments to see if people made decisions to trust others based on their faces.

They found people are more likely to invest money in someone whose face is generally perceived as trustworthy, even when they are given negative information about this person's reputation.

"Trustworthiness is one of the most important traits for social and economic interactions and our study examines whether people take potentially costly actions in line with their face-based trustworthiness judgments," said Dr. Chris Olivola, one of the study's authors. "It seems we are still willing to go with our own instincts about whether we think someone looks like we can trust them."

Now the only trick is for people who aren't in fact trustworthy at all to appear as if they are. Or, as it's been said before: Once you can fake sincerity, you've got it made.

(HT: Naked Capitalism)

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Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone

We are taking a couple days off, and hope you are too. FWIW, the tryptophan in your turkey may not be what’s making you groggy; it may, however, make you more trusting. Perhaps Paul Feldman should consider selling turkey bagels.