When you think trust only matters in the big moments of life like the wedding, the business deal, or in the hospital, you would be wrong. Trust can influence practically every aspect of our lives and use up a huge amount of our mental energies, especially in learning, romance, business, and behavior on the internet.
But why trust is important? And what are the roots, reasons, and risks of trust?
What does trust mean?
When you look in the newspaper, you can see trust affect everything, be it banks, corporations, and relationships
Trust is a word we all use and know, but everybody has slightly different interpretations.
Every day you make decisions based on trust, be it the friends who want to borrow money. Do you do it? Well, you don’t know her, but you like her. Still, will you ever get your money back? The risk is the essence of trust. So when you trust someone, you hope they don’t have selfish desires, but you also think of the long-term relationships you can build together.
You can define trust as the confidence you have in someone. So if you trust others, you feel assured that they do something like paying back that $100 or staying in your partnership
If you look closely, you can see that every definition shares a common theme.
Without trust, it would be difficult even to leave your home or buy something from strangers online. And using transportation like planes cars or trains would be not possible if you don’t trust in their abilities.
Trust benefits us because it facilitates good communication. For example, it is way easier to understand someone when you trust them. You may experience with your best friend or family member (whom you trust) understanding what you are saying even when you don’t speak clearly.
But indifference, you find it often harder to understand people you are not familiar with even if they speak in plain terms.
So, trust is a two-way street. We often trust another person when we know the person has more to lose than to gain when they betray our trust.
Why trust is important?
While it can be risky trusting others, it can also bring great rewards. With trust, we can get resources and benefits that we can’t obtain on our own. We archive more if we work together than this results in financials, physical, and social gains.
The kids will be sent to school, and we trust someone else will provide them good education while we focus on earning money.
However, we are drawn to “selfish” short-term individual rewards. Our minds always balance opportunities for short-term selfish gains. It is the reason why people cheat on their fiance to get an exciting kick for a short-term temptation against the long-term, less exciting but loving relationship.
These urges come from evolution as we evolved to be reproductive prosperous “winners” and not saints that always do the right thing.
In prehistoric times our world was filled with dangers, and the life expectancy was short, so our ancestors didn’t think too much about the long term. It sometimes leaves us to destroy a long-term relationship in favor of selfish short-term behaviors, especially when you know you can’t be caught.
But the evolution also had another influence when humans started to live in tribes. They discovered the benefits of cooperation. It made clear that those who helped others and returned the favor of helping were better of in the long run as it benefited both parties.
While there is a risk of betrayal, trust is important when people want to work together towards greater rewards.
The feeling of trust
Think about the last time you needed to choose whether you trust someone. Maybe you could feel it in your stomach or your heart beating? There is a good chance you did because you can feel trust as much in your body as your mind.
The feeling of trust has a physiological base. Humans and other social primates share something called the vagus nerve, a key nerve that runs straight from the brain to our chest. When it is activated, it has a calming effect on body functions like our heart rate and perspiration, and only the vagus nerve makes us calm, and in an assertive bodily state, we can feel trust towards others.
Hormones like oxytocin affect how much we trust others.
In experiments where participants in teams make financial decisions demonstrated that spraying oxytocin in the noses of participants increased trust and cooperation on the same but increased distrust for other teams.
This physiological base is the foundation of our primal instinct that detects and rejects unfair and untrustworthy behavior.
Some experiments have shown people will instantly refuse money if the offer seems unfair, even when they need to walk away with nothing. In their gut, people know they aren’t treated fairly and rather sacrifice their own profit to make a point that the other person is acting unfairly, which is untrustworthy behavior.
So when you next suspect somebody, you should listen to your body if you feel tense or relaxed.
Also, make sure that your body and mind are in the necessary state to be open to trusting someone.
When you enter a new situation where you feel angry or nervous, it limits your trustability. Indifference when you feel extremely calm you might end up trusting someone you shouldn’t. So if you want a realistic view of how trustworthy someone is, you shouldn’t rush the first meeting with them after an emotional event.
Rather take a moment to calm down and remember to pay close attention.
Signs of trust
There is a belief that shifty eyes are a reliable indicator that a person is lying. Other people think isolated gestures and expressions will tell you nothing about the trustworthiness of a person.
To interpret trust correctly, the configurable and situational context is key.
So you need to look for a configuration or cues and not rely on a sing cue. This allows for greater accuracy in detecting people’s intentions, like trustworthiness.
Facial expression is often useless in figuring out others’ intentions. For example, when people are shown a picture of an athlete who experiences intense winning or losing. People can often not determine which state the athlete is in without seeing the rest of the body. So an open mouth expression looks aggressive, but with one or both fist-pumping, it becomes more equal to “Yes, I nailed it.”
It shows that detecting emotional states and intention comes from looking at different signs, not just one golden cue.
You also need to consider the context when you detect trustworthiness. So the same cue can signal different intentions depending on the specific situation and person.
Our brain can interpret someone else’s smile as a signal of support or malice depending on how much we like the other person socially. So your best friend’s smile makes you feel happy and safe, but your enemy smile will make you more suspicious.
When trust develops
People often think children are easy to fool, but when it comes to trusting children, they are less foolish than commonly believed. There is a strong evolutionary reason for children to figure early out whom they can rely on because they are so vulnerable.
Even six to ten-month-old babies can, as experiments have shown differing who can be trusted and who not. In a puppet show, their two puppets presented one “good” and a mean one. After the show, most reached out to the “good” puppet.
It shows even babies are able to sense who they can trust.
When one adult calls all objects correctly, and the other intentionally makes mistakes like calling a hammer a fork. The kids are more likely to ask the competent adult. And even three weeks after the kids were brought, they still preferred asking the competent adult. It shows the adult competence appeared more trustworthy to the children.
So learning comes down to whether you trust what you are told. The Children’s minds are already categorizing their teachers. It is the reason why most learn better with a good teacher they trust.
Trust in relationships
Every type of adult relationship from friendship to employment involves a level of mutual dependence. When we want to trust someone, we hope they’ll prioritize long-term relationships over their immediate desires.
But when it comes to love, trust takes fundamental importance.
The evolutionary perspective shows the trustworthiness of a potential co-parent is more important than that of anyone else.
Since the origin of humanity, partnerships of parents have been a key to the survival of children. So two parents that could care for and defend the child greatly raise the survival chances. It´s why our mind has been shaped by evolution to be able to trust our romantic partners so the person will stick around and help take care of the child.
Things have changed much, but trust is still the center of a successful, modern-day romantic relationship.
In a recent study, the role of trust in a romantic relationship was tested. Couples were invited to individually complete questions about trust and then discuss a goal that required major sacrifices from the other partner.
The recording revealed that the individuals who discussed with more trust in their partners had a much greater desire to collaborate and compromise to find a solution. When the people had more trust in their partner, the partner’s responses were appreciated more as noble sacrifices.
So to sustain a long-term relationship, a high level of trust can also support your well-being. Some studies also proved that such a relationship has economic, social, mental, and physiological benefits.
To establish trust in your relationships, you need to behave in a trustworthy way. It doesn’t mean to use charm and excessive flattery.
Rather you need to tell the truth. So avoiding information or double-talking or spinning stories are different ways you don´t speak the whole truth even if you are not lying outright. These behaviors make it harder to trust and have a good relationship, especially when someone has a reputation for being dishonest.
What you also need to do is to demonstrate respect for others by showing that you care. So if people think you really care about them, they are less likely to believe you will harm and they will have more faith in you.
To show you care, you need to acknowledge the people’s contributions around you and avoid bad-mouthing people.
But avoid overdoing it; this can undo the good behavior.
Most people appreciate a straight honest talker, but going overboard can strain your relationships and weaken your trust level. So don’t say things like how much you hate your friend’s new romantic partner.
To see if you create or destroy the trust, you can use the following analogy. Think about your efforts in terms of a trust account. So when you act trustworthy, you make a “deposit”; on the contrary, you make a “withdrawal.”The goal is to stay in credit. You can find others for feedback on your behavior. This will tell you how you progress and where you can improve.
It helps you receive and maintain trust from others.
Do you trust yourself?
Some people claim they always trust in themself to make the right decision. But actually trusting in yourself is similar to trusting someone else. You want to know what the other person, “the future you,” is likely to do. However, the future is rarely predictable.
In an experiment, you are left alone in a room where you need to flip a coin, and the outcome (head vs. tails) determines whether you or another participant will be assigned to long and difficult tasks versus a short and fun one.
Most people would not be willing to lie about the outcome of the toss because it is untrustworthy behavior. Yet, in this situation, the hidden camera revealed that 90 percent of the cheated.
We not only overestimate how much we can trust our future selves, but we also try to explain our untrustworthy behavior away.
After the coin flip experiment, the cheaters were asked about their behavior they didn’t even view as untrustworthy. Instead, they argued that they had no choice or it was right to do so.
Therefore you shouldn’t consider trusting yourself a lesser risk than trusting in someone else. You will be surprised at how good we are at abusing our own and each other’s trust.
Accept that you can´t always trust yourself to do the right thing. So use a different technique that helps communicate with your future self. For example, you want to use social media lesser, you could install a tracking app to track your time or deinstall the social media app completely.
How to improve your self-trust?
Having self-trust is very important because if you can’t trust yourself, how can anyone else trust you.
To get more self-trust, you need to make yourself credible by adopting the Four Cores.
- Integrity means being, standing by your principle, and doing what you say you will do. To increase your integrity, you need to make commitments to yourself. As an example, you are consistently getting up when your alarm clock rings every morning. Sticking with such commitment will increase your self-trust.
- Intent means having positive motives and behaviors. You can analyze and redefine your motives by asking yourself questions. Like, “Do I really listen to this person, or do I just want to win this argument?”
- Capabilities where you develop abilities to evoke confidence. For instance, the child who learns a musical instrument can gain higher self-confidence that benefits in other areas in their life. So one way to improve your capabilities is to keep learning and doing your own research in areas you are interested in.
- Results mean tracking the deeds to which you have committed yourself. For example, you can write a To-do list of important tasks to see what you did and whatnot.
By working on these core principles, you develop self-trust, which also helps others to trust you.
Trust throughout the history
Trust changed throughout human history.
First, there was only the local trust, so face-to-face relations and trading were only in small communities. Then the industrial revolution made it possible to trade and travel further.
For generations, children were told never to get in the stranger’s car, now millions use uber every day. While new eras can be scary, they can also bring many amazing innovations.
We trust strangers with credit card detail when we shop, but we also have more access to goods than ever before.
The internet and technology have radically changed how people interact with each other. Technology now more than ever is used to be social like in real life. While Virtual world interactions are similar to the real world, there are no direct body languages to look for, which bring greater potential for manipulation.
Normally people judge a person’s trustworthiness by visual cues; for instance, they constantly touch their face, so they might be untrustworthy. We can’t access that information on the internet and don’t see reliable signals that show others’ initiation.
While it can hide information, it can also simulate trustworthy behavior in the form of technology.
Take the virtual nurse Louise who helps people that struggle to follow prescribed procedures in their after-hospital care plan. Louise was designed to give medical advice using the body language and tone of voice of a real-life trustworthy person. This illusion of trust actually made patients feel more at ease and helped them better to follow the medical advice than with real nurses.
Online most people leave a trail behind them, which helps others follow this trail and determine how trustworthy they are. Many social media users’ past behavior is visible to all, and poor decisions can hurt you. A problem are the so-called “cancel cultures,” which are groups of people who want to hurt a person’s reputation by searching for small mistakes they make online.
Rating increases trust no matter it is for purchasing online, using Uber, or getting a babysitter. Most people would trust a complete stranger as long their reputation and rating are good enough.
While rating systems are the heart of trustworthiness, they can also make life harder. Take China’s trustworthiness system that determines common indicators like credit rates and people’s behavior and preferences as well as interpersonal relationships. So when someone posts and talks negatively about the government, it will lower the person’s score.
The lower the score, the more difficult life will be. These people will be placed at the bottom of the travel visas list, become less employable, and less likely to receive state benefits. It creates immense pressure to conform and maintain a high score.
Why do rich people trust others less
Everybody needs a place to trust in others to obtain what we can’t get alone. But what about those who are completely self-sufficient, have everything they want, and don’t need the support of others?
These are the people who have lots of money, power, and influence. Research shows those their needs are fulfilled and are less dependent on others or more likely selfish.
In an experiment on a busy intersection, researched the cars that stopped by the crosswalk and which did not. The result was the more expensive the car, the higher the chance that the driver would cut the pedestrian of and keep driving. So the higher their socioeconomic status, the more likely the driver would put their own need first and break the law.
It shows wealthier individuals are disregard trust in them to their own advantage. In this, they were prepared to endanger life to save themselves a few seconds.
These people not only have less trustworthy behavior, but they have also are less willing to trust others.
Individuals of varying socioeconomic status played a trust game where each participant was given some money. They can choose to give it a “trustee” who will triple the amount but isn’t required to give it back. So as a participant, you either trust these trustees that they act fairly and split the profit with you, or you take home the smaller pot without the risk of trusting the stranger.
The results were that the higher the socioeconomic status lower their willingness to trust.
How to restore trust?
Rebuilding trust is difficult; once something destroys the trust, it is hard to believe that people will act differently in the future. But trust can be restored.
It takes effort to regain and strengthen smart trust which is the middle between distrust and naive believing. This combines the feeling that others are generally worthy of trust and a close look at what happens when you trust someone.
Let’s say you want to do business with someone that has previously betrayed you. While normally, many approach this situation, hoping that the involved are more trustworthy now and forgive the wrongdoings. Working with the person would demonstrate a lack of learning on our part.
But practicing smart trust means you wouldn’t trust this person unless you are confident that they learned from their mistakes. Until then, you shouldn’t trust them completely
Extending smart trust also shows others that they can trust you in return, and so a damaged relationship can be rebuilt.
You can also restore trust by improving your credibility.
For example, when a father gave the son the family car to drive under the condition, he didn’t drive over the speed limit. But the son still got a speeding ticket. To display his credibility, he worked hard to pay off the speeding ticket and regain his father’s trust.
Remember, it is not always possible to fix someone else’s opinion about you and restore trust again.
But when you want to gain more trust from other people, the small gestures often are what make a difference. Take your time and listen to others and give them advice when possible and acknowledge their efforts aside from work.
Everyone can create trust; it can change many things for the better by speeding up interactions and lowering costs. So when we promote trust, it will make a big difference in companies and our personal relationships.