4 Lessons About Trust
Trust is an important part of life, as Shakespeare wrote in one of his plays “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none”.
But as such an important aspect of life that maintains relationships, groups and societies what do we really know about trust.
New research aimed to provide a review of 4 elements of trust that has been learnt from recent research.
Lesson 1: Generalised Trust Is More a Matter of Culture Than Genetics
The culture is more important to the levels of trust that is commonly found than genetics, trust in fact has a very low level of heritability, it is not passed on through genes in any meaningful way and is in fact ‘virtually absent’.
Research has also found that people who move from a ‘low-trust’ country to a ‘high-trust’ country are strongly affected by the change in levels of trust:
Although future research is needed, these findings underscore the importance of culture as a strong determinant of generalized trust and help us understand why the modest genetic influences on generalized trust should not be too surprising.
Lesson 2: Trust Is Deeply Rooted in Social Interaction Experiences, Networks, and Media
Experiences are responsible for many facets of our personality, and psychology famously blames childhood events for adult personality traits.
One is the role of personal social interaction experiences, including experiences after childhood. Powerful experiences such as burglary, mistreatment by authorities, or unexpected unemployment may seriously undermine generalized trust
A second influence would come from close others who have powerful social experiences, which, when observed or shared, may also affect trust: the child who is bullied, the partner who is harassed, or the coworker and friend who is fired without much explanation (close others’ experiences).
The third influence is people’s exposure to information about human nature in general, and human trustworthiness in particular, through various sources, such as their community, broader social networks, or local or global media (societal experiences).
Lesson 3: People Have Too Little Trust in Other People in General
Levels of trust that we have in others has received surprisingly little scientific research, but we research is able to establish broad rules about how much trust we place in others.
One is that people see themselves as better than others in several domains. Interestingly, this tendency toward “perceived superiority” is especially pronounced in domains that are relevant to trust. Relative to themselves, people see other people as especially low in honesty, considerateness, and prosociality.
A second factor is that people often tend to assume that self-interest explains others’ behavior. People systematically overestimate the role of selfish motives in various domains (e.g., overestimating the influence of financial compensation on blood donation
Lesson 4: It Is Adaptive to Regulate a “Healthy Dose” of Generalised Trust
Lastly research has shown how levels of trust are regulated and that we don’t just simple become more distrustful over time.
Cross-sectional research that has examined the association between age and (generalized) trust typically has not found that people’s levels of trust decrease with increasing age—if anything, there seems to be a small increase in trust with age up until 65 years
As trust is such an important component of life it is important to draw lessons from research such as this:
These building blocks are essential to social life because the costs of a chronic and excessive underestimation of people’s benign intentions and trustworthiness would be too high—not only for groups and society at large, but for individuals themselves. Indeed, this might well help explain why some dose of generalized trust is, quite literally, one key to a healthy, long life.