Trust and intention to comply with a water allocation decision: The moderating roles of knowledge and consistency

Joseph A. Hamm, Lisa M. PytlikZillig, Mitchel N. Herian, Alan J. Tomkins, Hannah Dietrich, Sarah Michaels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Regulating water resources is a critically important yet increasingly complex component of the interaction between ecology and society. Many argue that effective water regulation relies heavily upon the compliance of water users. The relevant literature suggests that, rather than relying on external motivators for individual compliance, e.g., punishments and rewards, it is preferable to focus on internal motivators, including trust in others. Although prior scholarship has resulted in contemporary institutional efforts to increase public trust, these efforts are hindered by a lack of evidence regarding the specific situations in which trust, in its various forms, most effectively increases compliance. We report the results of an experiment designed to compare the impacts of three trust-related constructs, a broad sense of trust in the institution, specific process-fairness perceptions, and a dispositional tendency to trust others, on compliance with water regulation under experimentally varied situations. Specifically, we tested the potential moderating influences of concepts relevant to water regulation in the real world: high versus low information conditions about an institutional decision, decision consistency with relevant data, and decision outcome valence. Our results suggest that participants' dispositional trust predicts their intent to comply when they have limited information about decisions, but the effects of dispositional trust are mediated by trust in the institution. Institutional trust predicts compliance under narrow conditions: when information is lacking or when decision outcomes are positive and are justified by available data. Finally, when the regulatory decision is inconsistent with other data in high-information conditions, prior judgments of institutional process fairness are most predictive of intent to comply. Our results may give guidance to water regulators, who may want to try to increase trust and thus increase voluntary compliance; the results suggest, in particular, that such efforts be tailored to the situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number49
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2013


  • Compliance
  • Human dimensions of natural resource management
  • Procedural justice
  • Trust
  • Water allocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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