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Author: Dr Simon Moss


Trust is a crucial facet of interpersonal behavior. Trust has been shown to facilitate the sharing of information (e.g., Butler, 1999) and encourage cooperation (e.g., McAllister, 1995). As a consequence, transaction costs dissipate (Barney & Hansen, 1994) and economic growth improves (e.g., Zak & Knack, 2001).

Interestingly, many subtle factors can affect trust. Allusions to law or other legal processes, for example, tend to curb trust (Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, & Whitefield, 2010). Subliminal references to the name of people that individuals like enhances trust (Huang & Murnighan, 2010). Furthermore, a secure attachment style is also related to trust (e.g., Simmons, Gooty, Nelson, & Little, 2009& see Attachment theory).

Definitions of trust

Many researchers have defined trust. Most of these definitions, however, recognize that trust comprises two features. First, trust entails a reliance on another person--the behavioral manifestation of trust (e.g., Currall & Judge, 1995). Second, trust unfolds in risky contexts in which the outcomes are uncertain and some adversity could arise. For example:

In particular, Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman (1995) maintained that people first assess the perceived trustworthiness of another person, integrating information about the ability, benevolence, and integrity of this individual (Schoorman, Mayer, & Davis, 1996). The degree to which they trust a person is a function of both the perceived trustworthiness of this individual as well as their own propensity to trust. This trust then elicits risk taking behaviors, such as sharing confidential information, especially if the perceived risks in this context are modest.

Dimensions of trust

Sometimes, trust is conceptualized as a trait that is consistent across time and contexts. Examples of this conceptualization are epitomized by the concepts of interpersonal trust (Rotter, 1967), generalised trust (Stack, 1978) and propensity to trust (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995). Nevertheless, many authors also acknowledge that trust can vary across contexts (Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, & Whitefield, 2010& Mechanic, 1996& Stack, 1978).

Scott (1980), for example, showed these forms of trust can be distinguished empirically. In particular, Scott (1980) administered a measure of interpersonal trust to participants before and after they attended a session that was designed to boost teamwork. Other participants completed this measure but did not attend the session. Scott found that individuals who demonstrated trust before the session were more likely to demonstrate trust after the session, consistent with the proposition that trust is a trait. Furthermore, trust also varied across the sessions, consistent with the proposition that trust depends on the situation.

In addition, researchers also distinguish cognitive and affective underpinnings of trust (McAllister, 1995). That is, trust can evolve from a transactional perspective in which individuals cognitively and systematically consider the rewards and benefits of trusting behaviors. They might consider the extent to which the person is reliable and predictable, the likelihood of adversities or benefits, and the magnitude of these costs and gains (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996& McAllister, 1995, 1997)--called cognitive-based or calculus-based trust. In contrast, trust can also evolve from a communal perspective in which emotional connections, characterized by feelings of care and concern, are formed over time (McAllister, 1995).

Conceivably, cognitive determinants of trust might precede these affective determinants of trust. That is, when they initially form a relationship, individuals might consider the tangible benefits and costs of trust. This trust is manifested by reciprocation and consistency as well as the withdrawal of deterrents or control (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996), especially if their propensity to trust is elevated (McKnight, Cummings, & Chervany, 1998). In other words, the initial level of trust is primarily contingent upon the propensity of each person to trust other individuals.

This propensity to trust emerges from two related, but distinct, inclinations: faith in humanity and trusting stance (McKnight, Cummings, & Chervany, 1998). Faith in humanity represents the belief that humans are reliable and adopt cooperative intentions. Nevertheless, even if individuals reject faith in humanity, other factors could foster trust. They might, for example, feel their own trusting behavior could influence the reliability or intentions of other individuals. Accordingly, distinct from faith in humanity is trusting stance--a conscious choice to trust other individuals as a means to garner better interpersonal outcomes.

Over time, in the aftermath of many shared experiences and knowledge about one another, the individuals begin to identify with one another. That is, they value the relationship itself and both understand as well as accommodate the needs and priorities of the other person (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996).

Finally, some researchers differentiate the qualities that can be trusted. To illustrate, Butler and Cantrell (1984) maintain that individuals can trust the integrity, competence, or openness of another person--and these facets are distinguishable.

Determinants of trust

Many factors affect the likelihood that individuals will trust someone who has apologized for a previous offense. To illustrate, implicit malleability, or the assumption that perhaps the morality of individuals can change over time, facilitates this restoration of trust (Haselhuhn, Schweitzer, & Wood, 2010& see Implicit theories of malleability). Furthermore, individuals who engage in behaviors that assist society or the environment tend to be perceived as more trustworthy and likeable (see, for example, Barclay, 2004).

Income inequality

Oishi, Kesebir, and Diener (2011) showed that inequality in income tends to impede trust. This distrust also impairs happiness.

Specifically, Oishi, Kesebir, and Diener (2011) examined data that were collected in America from 1972 to 2008. These researchers collated the Gini coefficient each year--a measure of inequality in income. Furthermore, each year, about 1800 people were asked to indicate the extent to which they feel that people tend to be trustworthy and fair or untrustworthy and exploitative. Finally, participants were asked to indicate the degree to which they felt happy on a 3 point scale.

Income inequality was inversely related to happiness. The degree to which participants felt that people tend to be trustworthy and fair fully mediated this association. Household income itself did not mediate this relationship. When incomes are unequal, people assume that individuals are more competitive rather than cooperative. Society also seems more divisive. Trust thus diminishes.

Other studies also indicate that equality can improve trust and cooperation. In a study that was conducted by Cozzolino (2011), around 2000 participants completed a survey. One question ascertained the extent to which participants felt that income varies too dramatically across the community. This question reflects whether individuals felt their society was unequal.

In addition, further questions assessed facets of trust, cooperation, and social capital. For example, some of the questions assessed the extent to which people feel a sense of connection to their neighborhood, town, and state. Other questions assessed the degree to which people prefer to remain in their neighborhood. Furthermore, some questions gauged the extent to which people engage in the political process. Finally, some questions determined whether participants often volunteer in health, education, environment, or other domains. The perception that society is unequal was negatively associated with all these measures of trust, cooperation, and social capital.

Cozzolino (2011) also conducted another study that showed that inequality may decrease trust and cooperation. In brief, participants completed three tasks. Supposedly, two other people also completed these tasks in another room. The person who performed most effectively received the most raffle tickets, and the person who performed least effectively received the fewest raffle tickets. Next, participants were asked whether they would like to cooperate with the other two people to complete another task-or whether they would prefer to undertake this activity alone. Furthermore, participants completed questions that gauge their mood as well as whether they felt the distribution of raffle tickets was fair.

If participants had received a moderate number of raffle tickets, they were especially inclined to cooperate later. If participants had received significantly fewer or significantly more raffle tickets than everyone else, they were less inclined to cooperate later. A negative mood mediated the association between few raffle tickets and cooperation. The belief that perhaps the distribution of raffle tickets was unjust mediated the association between many raffle tickets and cooperation.

These findings imply that equality enhances cooperation. In unequal societies, people who receive a minimal income are likely to experience negative emotions--emotions that tend to evoke distrust. Furthermore, in these unequal societies, people who receive an exorbitant income are aware that society is not fair. This awareness evokes suspicion of other people.

Mechanisms that underpin the drawbacks of income inequality

Walasek and Brown (2015) explored a mechanism that can explain why income inequality diminishes trust and wellbeing. In particular, they argued that, when inequality is rife, people are primarily motivated to enhance their status, called the social rank hypothesis. They will dedicate time to this pursuit, often to the sacrifice of leisure, health behaviour, and cooperation. They may even become more materialistic.

Walasek and Brown (2015) uncovered some findings that align to this proposition. Specifically, in US states that report the higher Gini coefficient, people were more likely to search in Google for goods that judges rate as vital to status. Examples include designer brands, expensive jewelry, and luxury clothing. Specifically, people in states with elevated levels of inequality were more likely to enter search terms like Ralph Lauren, Dix Bay, David Yurman, Tibi dresses, Bass loafers, and so forth. They were not as likely to search names that do not promote status, such as word dictionary, chick flick movies, and flower names.

The benefits of income inequality

This finding that income inequality provokes distrust has inspired many researchers to argue that variability in pay should be constrained. Yet, some research indicates that only inequity, or sizeable variations that are unrelated to performance, provokes these complications (Trevor, 2012). Variations in pay that are related to performance or expertise can be beneficial.

To illustrate, Trevor (2012) examined the effects of inequalities in income, sometimes called pay dispersion, in hockey teams. Specifically, this study utilized a measure of player value that is derived from numbers of goals, number of assists, and other information. Trevor could then compute the extent to which pay dispersion is explained by differences in player value or performance. Pay dispersion that was explained by differences in player value or performance was positively associated with team success. In contrast, pay dispersion that was not explained by differences in player value or performance was not positively related, and perhaps negatively related, to team success.

According to Trevor (2012), pay dispersion could attract, and to a lesser extent retain, the most effective players and, ultimately, enhance the team Alternatively, if unrelated to performance, pay dispersion could promote feelings of injustice or other problems. This premise could explain why past studies have uncovered mixed effects of pay dispersion on overall performance (for a review, see Trevor, 2012).

Dimensions of income inequality

Fung and Au (2014) differentiated several categories of inequality. When inequality is pronounced, the distribution of income can be positively skewed, negatively skewed, or not skewed. That is, income could be very high in a very small sample of wealthy individuals, very low in a very small sample of deprived individuals, or both. As Fung and Au (2014) showed, inequality tends to impede cooperation unless skewness is positive and income is very high only in a small sample of wealthy individuals.

In particular, Fung and Au (2014) conducted a study to show how inequality impairs cooperation. Participants were exposed to a public goods dilemma. Specifically, in groups of four people, individuals played 10 trials on an investment game, although were not informed in advance when the game would end. On each trial, they were asked, without discussing their choices, to indicate the amount of money they would like to contribute to a pool of snacks. The final pool of money that was collected would be multiplied by 2.2, and the snacks would then be distributed across the individuals. After each trial, individuals were assigned to new groups.

To manipulate inequality and skewness, on some but not all trials, the amount that individuals received varied across the group. The variation was either symmetrical, such as 5, 30, and 55, or positively skewed, such as 15, 15, and 60. Individuals were not as likely to contribute money to the pool when the initial amount was unequal but symmetrical. More specifically, the individuals who were awarded high amounts contributed less but only when the distribution was symmetric. When the distribution was asymmetric, such as 15, 15, and 60, rather than symmetric, the individuals who were awarded high amounts contributed more. Accordingly, crowd funding may be more effective if only one, rather than several, very wealthy members are invited to contribute.

A subsequent study was similar, but also explored the psychological processes that underpin these decisions. For example, when the distribution was unequal but symmetrical, individuals were more tempted to depend on the contributions of other people, called free riding. In addition, when the distribution was not symmetric, such as 15, 15, and 60, the individuals who were awarded high amounts perceived themselves as higher in self-efficacy, perhaps increasing their motivation to contribute.

Presumably, when a minority of individuals are especially wealthy, the remaining people tend to feel their income is similar to one another. They become more aware of their social identity, promoting cooperation. The very wealthy people experience a sense of self-efficacy--a state that can also promote contributions.

Assumptions about income inequality

Although inequality is rampant in many nations, such as America and Australia, people tend to overestimate the likelihood that socioeconomic status, such as income, is likely to shift appreciably over time (Kraus & Tan, 2015). To illustrate, in one set of studies, conducted by Kraus and Tan (2015), participants received a series of questions that assess their beliefs about the mobility of socioeconomic status. For example, they were asked, if people who earn the lowest 20% of income worked 1000 more hours a year or earned another degree, what percentage of these individuals would no longer belong to this income bracket. Their answers were compared to objective measures. In general, participants greatly overestimated the likelihood that individuals will shift from one income bracket to another income bracket, typically by about 23%.

Kraus and Tan (2015) also explored the determinants of this bias. First, people who are younger are especially likely to overestimate the mobility of socioeconomic status: Presumably, these individuals like to feel they can readily shape their own lives and, thus, may dismiss some of the societal constraints to this shift. Second, people who are high in socioeconomic status also exhibit this bias: These individuals may want to believe they have earned their status and, thus, convince themselves that anyone who works hard or effectively can achieve this benefit as well. Third, after people are informed that genetics markedly shapes behavior, this overestimate diminishes. Individuals recognize that biology may limit the capacity of individuals to achieve success.

Legal contexts

Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, and Whitefield (2010) maintained that exposure to legal concepts tend to promote distrust. That is, particularly in Anglo-American legal institutions in which an adversary rather than inquisitorial system prevails, the law is associated with competition. In the media, such as TV programs like Law and Order or Judge Judy, individuals are often exposed to the adversarial nature of the legal process. Furthermore, metaphors of war, such as "a custody battle", or sporting contests, such as "to play hardball", pervade these depictions of the legal process, reinforcing the association between law and competition.

Accordingly, when individuals are exposed to legal institutions--or even exposed to subliminal references to the law--they are more likely to perceive the other party as competitive rather than cooperative. As a consequence, trust diminishes. That is, they feel that any trust will be exploited.

Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, and Whitefield (2010) conducted a series of studies that substantiate these propositions. In the first study, participants completed a lexical decision task in which they needed to decide whether or not various strings of letters were words. Embedded within this task were subliminal words. In one condition, these subliminal words alluded to legal concept, such as courts, trial, jury, and lawsuit. In the other conditions, none of these subliminal words alluded to legal concepts.

Then, a series of word fragments, such as - I G H T, were presented. Participants were instructed to complete these words. Some of these fragments could be completed with a word that represents competition, such as FIGHT. Other fragments could be completed with a word that represents cooperation. If participants had been exposed to words that relate to law, they were more likely to complete fragments with terms that represent competition. Conceivably, legal concepts primed a competitive orientation. Hence, these participants were more inclined to recognize words that relate to competition (Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, & Whitefield, 2010).

In a second study, participants completed an implicit association test. This procedure ascertains the extent to which individuals associate one set of concepts to another set of concepts. This study showed that legal concepts are highly related to competitive words, like battle, beat, fight, and conflict.

In the third study, participants were again exposed to subliminal words that relate to law, embedded within a lexical decision task. Next, they read a scenario about a meeting between two individuals. The scenario was intentionally vague: whether the two individuals were arguing or discussing--in other words, whether their motives were competitive or cooperative--was not certain. After they read the scenario, participants answered two questions to assess whether or not the individuals seem trustworthy. In addition, they answered two questions to assess whether or not the discussion seemed cooperative or competitive.

Relative to the other participants, individuals who were exposed to legal terms were more likely to perceive the exchange as competitive and the protagonists as untrustworthy (Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, & Whitefield, 2010). This relationship between legal concepts and competitive appraisals was mediated by perceptions of trust (Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, & Whitefield, 2010).

The fourth study showed that exposure to legal concepts does indeed inhibit cooperative behavior. In this study, a matrix of letters was presented, and participants needed to extract words from these letters. In one condition, the words were related to law. In the other condition, the words were unrelated to law. Next, participants read about a controversy: The government was planning to shift funding from research on an enzyme deficiency to billboards warning drivers to refrain from using their mobile in the car. Some participants were told this enzyme deficiency is common in their gender--eliciting a vested interest in this issue. The participants had to specify whether they supported the change.

Compared to the other participants, if individuals had been exposed to legal terms, they were more likely to support a policy that aligned with their vested interests. They become, thus, more egocentric (Callan, Kay, Olson, Brar, & Whitefield, 2010). Similarly, in the final study, legal concepts provoked competitive behavior in a prisoner's dilemma task. In short, legal concepts seem to promote a competitive orientation and evoke distrust.

Many other researchers also maintain that systems of laws, rules, and sanctions imply that people are inherently egocentric, uncooperative, and thus untrustworthy (e.g., Preachey & Lerner, 1981). Furthermore, surveillance systems (Enzle & Anderson, 1993), contractual arrangements (Malhorta & Murnighan, 2002), and other constraints (e.g., Fehr & Rockenbach, 2003) tend to compromise cooperation and promote perceptions of dishonesty, undermining trust. To illustrate, when supervisors are instructed to monitor an employee, they perceived this person as less trustworthy (Strickland, 1958).

Relational schemas

Any allusions or references to people that individuals like, even if subliminal, have been shown to enhance trust. In a study conducted by Huang and Murnighan (2010), participants first completed a scale that gauges propensity to trust. Second, participants were asked to specify three people they like, as well as three people they do not like, and to justify these answers with reasons. Independent judges coded the reasons into two categories: related to interpersonal qualities and unrelated to interpersonal qualities.

Next, participants completed a task in which subliminal references to either a person they like or a person they do not like was embedded. Sequences of numbers were presented, which participants were instructed to sum. Concurrently, at times, a string of letters flashed on the left or right side of the screen. Participants indicated which side of the screen the word appeared. A name of a person they liked or disliked appeared immediately before this string of letters--but too rapidly to be detected consciously.

Finally, participants were allocated $5 and told they could distribute any percentage of this amount to another person, who was supposedly a participant as well but located in another room. This person, purportedly, would be told they can triple the amount and then return whatever they felt was fair. The amount sent by participants was regarded as a measure of trust. Subliminal references to people they like increased the propensity of individuals to trust this stranger (Huang & Murnighan, 2010).

These findings may indicate that schemas of positive relationships--that is, patterns of expectations they form and behaviors they enact with people they like--elicits trust. Specifically, these schemas activate favorable expectations of interpersonal exchanges, which then bias predictions of other people. Nevertheless, these findings may not reflect these interpersonal or relational schemas. Instead, any positive cue could evoke similar levels of trust.

To discount this possibility, the study was repeated, except that participants also specified three objects they liked and three objects they did not like as well as reasons to justify these choices. In this study, subliminal references to people they like enhanced trust in participants. However, subliminal references to objects they like did not enhance trust (Huang & Murnighan, 2010). Hence, relational schemas seem to underpin this increase in trust.

In these studies, participants had listed individuals they liked or disliked. Sometimes, they might like, but not trust, someone and vice versa. A third study was conducted in which individuals listed people they liked and trusted, liked but distrusted, disliked but trusted, or disliked and distrusted. Names of individuals they liked, trusted, or both were sufficient to promote trusting behavior.


People who have visited many countries tend to be more trusting, as demonstrated by Cao, Galinsky, and Maddux (2013). For example, in one study, participants indicated the number of nations they have visited and the amount of time they have spent overseas. In addition, they played the trust game, in which they were granted $10. They could then chose to keep the money or distribute a certain amount to someone else, called the receiver. The money that was distributed was then tripled, and this receiver could then choose to return any percentage they chose. Participants who had traveled to many nations were more willing to distribute more of the money to the receiver, reflecting trust. Amount of time spent overseas was unrelated to trust.

In a second study, some participants merely recalled, and then described, a trip that involved more than two countries, whereas other participants described a trip to one country over a prolonged period. Recalling a trip to more than two countries increased the tendency of individuals to distribute money to the receiver--as well as increased agreement to items like "Most people are trustworthy". A subsequent study indicated that merely reflecting upon the differences, rather than similarities, between nations promoted trust.

Arguably, people often perceive strangers as untrustworthy. In contrast, when they interact with a different culture, this distrust towards this specific community tends to vanish. If they interact with a variety of cultures, this decrease in distrust extends beyond these particular communities and consolidates to form a generalized sense of trust.

Specific emotions

After individuals recall an instance in which they experienced gratitude, they are more likely to trust other people. They are, however, less likely to trust other individuals after they recall an instance in which they experienced anger. Recollections of events that provoked pride, guilt, or sadness do not influence trust (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005).

That is, some emotions, such as gratitude and anger, are ascribed to other individuals regardless of the bona fide source of these feelings (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). For example, employees tend to ascribe feelings of gratitude to other individuals& hence, they trust these individuals whenever they experience this emotion. Likewise, employees tend to ascribe feelings of anger to other individuals& accordingly, they mistrust individuals whenever they experience this emotion. Employees usually ascribe pride and guilt to their own qualities or behavior. Hence, pride and guilt will not influence the extent to which they perceive other individuals as trustworthy (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005).

Positive mood

Positive mood sometimes, but not always, promotes trust. Specifically, as Lount (2010) argued, positive mood increases the likelihood that individuals invoke their most prominent assumptions, inclinations, or stereotypes. That is, they apply their existing knowledge rather than analyze the environment (e.g., Bless & Fiedler, 1995, 2006). To illustrate, if cues in the environment imply the context is cooperative, the assumption that other people are trustworthy is primed. Positive mood will thus increase trust, whereas negative mood will curb trust. Conversely, if cues in the environment imply the context is uncooperative, the assumption that other people are untrustworthy is primed. Positive mood will thus curb trust.

Lount (2010) conducted a series of studies to verify these propositions. In the first study, individuals watched either a humorous or unemotional movie, to evoke a positive or neutral mood. Next, participants played a game, intended to measure trust. In essence, if participants sent money to another person, this individual could return more money. Hence, the amount of money they sent to another person was regarded as a measure of trust.

In one condition, participants engaged in this exchange with one person. In another condition, participants were members of a team, comprising three individuals They exchanged the money with another team of three people. Because people are usually more competitive in team settings, this condition was more likely to evoke the assumption that individuals are uncooperative.

Consistent with the hypotheses, when individuals did not operate in a team setting, and thus cooperation was primed, a positive mood increased trust. However, when individuals operated in a team setting, and thus competition was primed, a positive mood reduced trust. In short, in competitive contexts, positive states often contain trust.

Subsequent studies confirmed this account. For example, when participants interacted with someone who endorses another political party, eliciting a competitive mindset, positive mood again reduced trust (Lount, 2010). In other words, people tend to trust members of their own collectives, especially if they feel positive. Likewise, positive curbed trust towards someone who had previously been depicted as untrustworthy (Lount, 2010).

Similarly, Tan and Forgas (2010) showed that positive mood can inhibit cooperation, and foster selfish behavior, in some contexts. For example, in one study, individuals participated in the dictator game. That is, they received ten raffle tickets, but were granted an opportunity to distribute some of these tickets to someone else. If their mood was positive, they were less inclined to allocate tickets to the other person, especially if this individual was portrayed as a stranger instead of a fellow student. Presumably, when people interact with strangers, the norm is to be competitive, and positive mood increases reliance on this norm.


As Andreoni and Petrie (2008) discovered, if individuals are perceived as attractive, they are often assumed to be more cooperative and helpful. Nevertheless, because their level of cooperation is merely average, attractive individuals are not as helpful as anticipated. Because they often do not fulfill the expectations of other people, over time, their reputation diminishes rapidly?-more rapidly than other people who are equally as unhelpful.

This possibility was uncovered in an illuminating study, conducted and reported by Andreoni and Petrie (2008). In this study, 80 participants played a game. Another set of people then rated the degree to which these participants seemed attractive and helpful, judgments that were derived merely from a photograph. In generally, the participants who were rated as attractive were also more likely to appear to be helpful from their appearance alone.

These 80 participants were then divided into teams of five. In each round or trial, all the participants received 20 tokens each. They could choose to invest each token into one of two alternatives: a private good or a public good. If invested in a private good, they would receive 2 cents. If invested in a public good, they and everyone else would receive 1 cent. Investments in public goods, therefore, initially help everyone except the donor. In addition, each team of participants completed the task 8 times with each other.

In one condition, after each round, participants were told the amount of money that everyone invested in the public good--a measure of the degree to which they were cooperative rather than competitive. In the other condition, participants were not informed of the amount of money that everyone invested in the public good& they could not determine who had been cooperative.

Interestingly, if participants were informed about the amount of money that everyone invested in the public good, the most attractive people tended to be perceived as untrustworthy, especially after a few rounds. That is, after several rounds, other members of their team were not as likely to invest in the public good, concerned that attractive people would not reciprocate.

However, in actuality, attractive people were as likely as unattractive people to reciprocate or cooperate by investing in the public good. Because they were expected to be helpful however, their average level of cooperation did not fulfill expectations. They were, thus, evaluated more harshly whenever they invested in private goods.

Conversely, if participants were not informed about the amount of money that everyone invested in the public good, the most attractive people tended to be perceived as the most trustworthy. That is, other members of their team were especially likely to invest in the public good, perhaps assuming that attractive people would reciprocate.


Some physical features can affect the extent to which a person is regarded as trustworthy. Narrow eyes, for example, curb trust (Schul, Mayo, & Burnstein, 2004).

That is, when individuals speak to a person with narrow rather than round eyes, they unwittingly consider the opposite of every statement they hear or word they encounter. Specifically, individuals with narrow eyes tend to be perceived as more devious than are individuals with round eyes. Thus, when employees approach an individual with narrow eyes, they inadvertently experience a sense of suspicion and doubt. Humans have evolved to consider the opposite of any statement they hear when they experience this suspicion. If someone asserts, "This food is tasty", suspicious employees will imagine the sensation they will experience if the food is disgusting. Indeed, whenever individuals read a word such as "black", they will immediately form an image of the antonym such as "white" if a person with narrow eyes is nearby (Schul, Mayo, & Burnstein, 2004).

Salience of parental roles

Whenever individuals reflect upon their parental responsibilities, they are not as likely to trust strangers. These reflections, however, do not as significantly affect trust in acquaintances (Eibach & Mock, 2011).

In one study, the salience of parenthood was increased. That is, participants were asked to report the number of children they have reared and the age of their youngest child. Other participants were not asked these questions.

If parenthood was salient, the participants were more likely to report they do not trust strangers when asked. However, salience of parenthood did not affect trust towards people they know (Eibach & Mock, 2011). In addition, if participants were not parents, questions about children did not affect trust.

Furthermore, when their parenthood was salient, the individuals also demonstrated less trust towards strangers, as measured in a trust game and prisoner's dilemma. For example, the participants would seldom share any of their money with a stranger, even if told this person was granted the right to quadruple the money and return a proportion (see games).

That is, parents are often encouraged to protect their children from strangers. Therefore, when this parental role is activated, they become more inclined to distrust strangers.

Indeed, parental salience evokes an aversion to risk in general. For example, when parenthood is salient, individuals perceive activities like horseback riding, downhill skiing, motorcycle riding, and mountain climbing as too risky and assume that crime is more prevalent (Eibach & Mock, 2011).


Insurance can foster trust in some settings. That is, if individuals are informed they will lose only a minute amount of money if exploited by someone else, they are more likely to trust this person.

This possibility was substantiated by Lenton and Mosley (2011). In their study, participants completed the trust or investment game (see games). Specifically, one person, called the investor or sender, was granted 5 pounds. This person was then encouraged to transfer a certain amount, such as 50% of this money, to a second person, called the trustee or receiver. Depending on the condition, this trustee could then double, triple, or quadruple this amount and return a certain percentage to the investor.

The investor, if trusting, would transfer most of the money to the second person. If mistrusting, the investor would retain most of the money.

In addition, unbeknownst to the receivers, some investors were granted an opportunity to insure against exploitation. Specifically, if they pay 1 pound and the receiver does not return any of their money, the insurance company will pay their original investment minus the premium: 4 pounds.

If the investors paid for insurance, they were more trusting. That is, they were willing to transfer most of the money to the other person.

Presumably, after individuals are granted insurance, they may experience a sense of safety. Their losses are minimized and, therefore, not as salient. When losses are not as salient, individuals can shift their attention to desirable possibilities, fostering their sense of trust.


Education is positively associated with trust towards both people in general and government institutions (Hooghe, Marien, de Vroome, 2012). This association between education and trust is mediated by cognitive ability, prestige, and wealth.

Arguably, most individuals are motivated to trust other people. This trust diminishes the negative emotions that distrust can provoke and enables individuals to benefit from cooperative relationships. Yet, individuals are also reluctant to trust other people, recognizing they may be exploited. However, if these individuals are intelligent, respected, and wealthy, they can more readily protect themselves from this exploitation (Hooghe, Marien, de Vroome, 2012). They could afford to sue, for example. Consequently, their motivation to trust overrides their reluctance.

Religious beliefs

As Gervais, Shariff, and Norenzayan (2011) showed in a series of studies, people who believe in a deity, even if secular rather than orthodox, tend to distrust atheists. Indeed, they distrust atheists more than perhaps they distrust other communities they do not like, such as members of other religions. In particular, many people believe that individuals act more responsibly when they feel they God is watching them. This belief mediated the relationship between belief in god and distrust of atheism.

To illustrate one of these studies, participants completed a scale that assesses belief in god. In addition, they completed the implicit association test to gauge their associations between various concepts. The people who believed in God were more likely to associate distrust than dislike with atheists.

Correlates or consequences of trust

Interpersonal sensitivity and communication

Trust might be associated with interpersonal sensitivity and communication. As Sabatelli, Buck, and Dreyer (1983) revealed, when interpersonal trust is elevated, individuals can more readily decipher the nonverbal cues of other people (see also empathic accuracy). They can ascertain the intentions, needs, and emotions of these individuals without any communication of words.

Conceivably, if individuals can decode the intentions of someone else, they can more readily predict whether someone will be reliable (Sabatelli, Buck, & Dreyer, 1983). They do not need to distrust everyone. They can trust someone who exhibits the cues that coincide with reliability.

Trust is also associated with interpersonal capabilities. As Gurtman (1992) showed, trust is inversely related to interpersonal difficulties, such as problems with intimacy or undue submissive behavior.

Support from other people

Van Doesum, Van Lange, and Van Lange (2013) demonstrated that people who seem or look trustworthy are more likely to be the beneficiaries of social mindfulness. Social mindfulness entails both the capacity of individuals to decipher the needs and concerns of other people, epitomized by theory of mind and empathic accuracy, as well as the motivation to accommodate these needs and concerns, epitomized by empathic concern and pro-social motivations. Individuals tend to demonstrate more social mindedness towards trustworthy people

In one study, participants were informed they would interact, over computer, with another person. They saw a photograph of this person, whose face was either trustworthy or untrustworthy. Next, they completed a task that, unbeknownst to them, assessed social mindedness.

Specifically, participants were exposed to a series of objects, arranged in categories, such as pens, baseball caps, water bottles, and so forth. Each category comprised three items, two of which were identical, such as two green baseball caps and one yellow baseball cap. They were told they could choose to keep one of the three items from each category. They knew, however, that any item they choose would diminish the alternatives that are available to the other person. As predicted, if their partner looked trustworthy, participants choose one of the two identical items, to ensure more alternatives are available to their partner, reflecting social mindfulness--a tendency that is related to empathy, pro-social orientations, honesty, and agreeableness (Van Doesum, Van Lange, & Van Lange, 2013) .

Conceivably, when someone looks trustworthy, other people feel their kindness will be reciprocated. They are more willing to help trustworthy individuals.

Relationship satisfaction

If people demonstrated elevated levels of trust, their memories of past behaviors in their partners tend to be more positive. That is, when they reflect upon past transgressions that were committed by their partner, they do not perceive these episodes as especially severe. That is, as time progresses, they are less inclined to rate these transgressions as severe. In contrast, if people exhibit elevated levels of trust, their ratings of past transgressions seem more severe over time.

Lie detection

Perhaps surprisingly, if people tend to trust other people, they are actually more proficient at detecting whether another person is lying (Carter & Weber, 2010). They are not more na?ve.

Specifically, in one study, 29 participants watched a staged interview between a job candidate and a recruiter on video. When these videos were constructed, half of the candidates were told to articulate three lies. The participants rated the degree to which they perceived these candidates as honest as well as completed questionnaires that gauge whether they tend to trust people. Compared to the other participants, the participants who tend to trust people could more readily distinguish truthful job candidates from insincere job candidates.

If people are trusting, they are also more sensitive to cues that correspond to insincerity, such as modulation in their voice. Arguably, when people are distrusting, they either shift their attention away from social cues or become unduly sensitive, even to trivial cues, similar to the hallmarks of avoidant attachment and anxious attachment respectively (see attachment theory).

Social learning theory

Some researchers assume that trust evolves from social learning (e.g., Rotter, 1967, 1971, 1980). Specifically, according to Rotter (1967, 1971), throughout life, individuals form expectations of specific rewards or reinforcements. They might be promised a gift tomorrow, for example. Unfulfilled expectations will shape future expectations. If an expectation is not fulfilled in a specific context, they become dubious about whether a promise or pledge will be fulfilled in similar situations in the future. Furthermore, doubts across a variety of contexts become generalized, applying to all situations. Trust, in this context, represents the generalized expectation about whether promises, pledges, or statements will be fulfilled.

Constructive conflicts

In some teams, conflicts about how to complete tasks can impede workplace performance. In other teams, conflicts about how to complete tasks can enhance workplace performance. Specifically, in teams in which people do not feel excluded after they commit errors--called psychological safety--these conflicts tend to improve the performance of teams. Psychological safety corresponds to a form of trust in which people feel they will be accepted despite committing some mistakes. That is, team members are more willing to express a range of solutions, translating to more considered and suitable solutions (Bradley, Postlethwaite, Klotz, Hamdani, & Brown, 2012).


Trust has also been shown to be positively associated with happiness. Oishi, Kesebir, and Diener (2011) showed that inequality in income tends to be inversely associated with happiness. Distrust--as gauged by the question "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people? (1 = cannot trust, 2 = depends, 3 = can trust)?--mediated this association.

Similarly, as Helliwell and Huang (2011) showed, if people trust their managers, they tend to report elevated levels of life satisfaction. Indeed, according to Helliwell and Huang (2011), as trust in managers increases by about one tenth of a scale, life satisfaction rises by a level that usually coincides with a 30% escalation in income. This association between trust in management and life satisfaction is especially pronounced in people who do not belong to a union and in women rather than in men.

Leung, Kier, Fung, Fung, and Sproule (2011) showed that distinct facets of trust, as well as other forms of social capital, are related to happiness. Specifically, in this study, almost 25 000 Canadian students participated in this study. Ten facets of trust and social capital were assessed:

Apart from helping other people, political participation, and civic participation, all of these facets of social capital were positively related to reported levels of happiness. These findings persisted after controlling age, gender, income, marital status, and health.

Economic growth

Trust in people is associated with economic growth. Indeed, several studies have shown that growth in GDP is elevated in nations in which people generally trust other citizens (Knack & Keefer, 1997& Whiteley , 2000).


Distrust does affect creativity. Yet, the association between distrust and creativity is complex. In short, as Mayer and Mussweiler (2011) showed, when individuals experience distrust, their cognition is more flexible but their inclination to share their solutions diminishes.

To illustrate, in one study, distrust was either primed or not primed. In particular, strings of letters were presented in sequence. The task of participants was to decide whether or not these strings were legitimate words. Immediately before each string appeared, some participants were exposed to the word distrust subliminally. This word, although presented too rapidly to be recognized consciously, provokes a sense of distrust. Other participants were exposed to a subliminal set of random letters instead.

Next, participants completed a task that assesses whether they conceptualize concepts, like vehicle, as broad or specific. If distrust had been primed, the individuals were more likely to perceive these concepts as broad. They were more likely, for example, to perceive a camel as a typical example of a vehicle. These broad conceptualizations tend to facilitate creativity. Similarly, as shown in another study, if distrust was primed, people perceived many pairs of words, such as beer and grape, as related to each other. Again, this sensitivity to remote associations enhances creativity.

Finally, as another study showed, when people feel distrust, their creativity diminishes if they need to share their solutions with someone else. However, their creativity improves if they do not need to share their solutions with anyone else. That is, they can uncover more creative uses of various objects

Academic dishonesty

Distrust has also been shown to be associated with academic dishonesty. For example, Neville (2012) examined the associations between inequality in income, generalized trust, and search terms in Google that manifest dishonesty, such as seeking past exams or help with cheating. In states in which incomes were unequal, individuals were more likely to exhibit dishonesty. Average levels of distrust in the state mediated this relationship.

Factors that moderate the benefits of trust


Many scholars argue that trust between individuals and between teams is especially important in interdependent workgroups (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993& Jones & George, 1998& West, 1994). Similarly, according to Hay (2002), trust might be more important when the just in time system is applied--in which only output demanded by the customer is produced. Usually, excess stock and resources can override any deficiencies in coordination and interdependencies. When the just in time system is introduced, and this excess is withdrawn, seamless interdependencies and thus trust become more important (Oliver & Wilkinson, 1992& Peters, 1987).

Measures of trust

Workplace trust

Cook and Wall (1980) developed a measure of workplace trust. This measure differentiates trust within teams, trust between teams, and management trust of teams. A sample item for each of these three facets respectively is "If I got into difficulties at work, I know the other members of my team would try and help me out", "If I got into difficulties at work, I know the other teams would try and help me out", and "Management is sincere in its attempts to meet the employees' point of view". Typically, trust of members within teams is higher than other forms of trust (e.g., Hay, 2002).

Interpersonal trust scale

Rotter (1967, 1971) developed a scale of interpersonal trust (for applications, see Gurtman, 1992& Moore, Shaffer, Pollak, & Taylor-Lemcke, 1987). The original scale comprised 25 items, together with an addition 15 items that were primarily designed to conceal the intention of this measure. Items allude to a range of situations and individuals, such as parents, teachers, physicians, politicians, and friends, as well as to society in general. Chun and Campbell (1974) developed a shortened version, comprising only 12 items (see also Schoorman, Mayer, & Davis, 1996, for an eight item version).

Spearman-Brown split half reliability of the original version has been shown to be approximately .76 (Rotter, 1967). Test-retest reliability is .56 over seven months (Rotter, 1967). For the shortened version, the coefficient alpha was shown to be .80 in a sample superintendents and .74 in a sample of presidents (Chun & Campbell, 1974).

According to Rotter (1967), interpersonal trust, as measured by this scale, is higher in religious students as well as higher in students with elevated socioeconomic status. Furthermore, religious differences between parents were inversely related to trust (Rotter, 1967). This measure is not highly related to Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (r = .13& Rotter, 1967).

Some researchers argue that interpersonal trust comprises several distinct facets or dimensions. Kaplan (1973) uncovered three factors: trust toward institutions, the perceived sincerity of other individuals and the need to be cautious of other individuals. Chun and Campbell (1974) distinguished four factors: political cynicism, interpersonal exploitation, societal hypocrisy and reliable performance of roles.

Behavioral measures of trust

Berg, Dickhaut, and McCabe (1995) developed a task that measures trust. Participants were allocated $5. They were told they could dispense any percentage of this amount to another person, who was supposedly a participant as well. This person, purportedly, would be told they can triple the amount and then return whatever they felt was fair. The amount sent by participants is regarded as a measure of trust (for more evidence and discussion on this procedure, see games).

Other measures of trust

Other measures of trust have also been formulated. Examples include the self report trust scale, which comprises 10 items and generates correlations of about .56 with the interpersonal trust scale (Mac Donald, Kessel, & Fuller, 1972). The NEO PI R also includes a measure of trust--a facet of agreeableness (for other measures, see Yamagishi & Yamagishi, 1994).

Related concepts

Feelings of disconnection

In some communities, individuals may walk past a person, establish eye contact, and then smile. Other individuals may walk past a person but not establish eye contact and instead maintain a neutral expression--as if they are gazing through the person. Studies reveal that individuals tend to feel disconnected if eye contact is not established with a passerby. In contrast, after someone establishes eye contact and smiles at them, people are not as likely to feel disconnected, especially if they noticed this acknowledgement (Wesselmann, Cardoso, Slater, & Williams, 2012).


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