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Trust is a relationship of reliance. A trusted party is presumed to seek to fulfill policies, ethical codes, law and their previous promises. When trust breakdown it can be replaced by suspicion

Trust does not need to involve belief in the good character, vices, or morals of the other party. Persons engaged in a criminal activity usually trust each other to some extent. Also trust does not need to include an action that you and the other party are mutually engaged in. Trust is a prediction of reliance on an action, based on what a party knows about the other party. Trust is a statement about what is otherwise unknown -- for example, because it is far away, cannot be verified, or is in the future.


In psychology, trust is believing that the person who is trusted will do what is expected. It starts at the family and grows to others. According to the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson development of basic trust is the first state psychosocial development occurring, or failing, during the first two years of life. Success results in feelings of security, trust, and optimism, while failure leads towards an orientation of insecurity and mistrust.[1]

A person's dispositional tendency to trust others can be considered a personality trait and as such is one of the strongest predictors of subjective well-being.[2] It has been argued that trust increases subjective well-being because it enhances the quality of one's interpersonal relationships, and happy people are skilled at fostering good relationships.[3]

Trust is integral to the idea of social influence: it is easier to influence or persuade someone who is trusting. The notion of trust is increasingly adopted to predict acceptance of behaviors by others, institutions (e.g. government agencies) and objects such as machines. However, once again perception of honesty, competence and value similarity (slightly similar to benevolence) are essential. There are three different forms of trust. Trust is being vulnerable to someone even when they are trustworthy; Trustworthiness are the characteristics or behaviors of one person that inspire positive expectations in another person, and trust propensity being able to rely on people.[4] Once trust is lost, by obvious violation of one of these three determinants, it is very hard to regain. Thus there is clear asymmetry in the building versus destruction of trust. Hence being and acting trustworthy should be considered the only sure way to maintain a trust level.

Increasingly much research has been done on the notion of trust and its social implications:

  • Barbara Misztal, in her book,[5] attempts to combine all notions of trust together. She points out three basic things that trust does in the lives of people: It makes social life predictable, it creates a sense of community, and it makes it easier for people to work together.
  • In the context of sexual trust Riki Robbins[6] describes four stages of trust.[7]
  • In the context of Information theory Ed Gerck defines and contrasts trust with social functions such as power, surveillance, and accountability.[8][9]
  • From a social identity perspective, the propensity to trust in strangers (see in-group favoritism) arises from the mutual knowledge of a shared group membership,[10][11] stereotypes,[11] or the need to maintain the group's positive distinctiveness.[12]

In addition to the social influence, in organizational settings, trust may have a positive influence on the behaviors, perceptions, and performances of a person. Trust has a circular relationship with organizational justice perceptions such that perceived justice leads to trust which, in turn, promotes future perceptions of justice.[13] One factor that enhances trust in a human being is facial resemblance. Through digital manipulation of facial resemblance in a two person sequential trust game evidence was found supporting that having similar facial features (facial resemblance) enhanced trust in a subject’s respective partner.[14] Though facial resemblance was shown to increase trust, facial resemblance had the effect of decreased sexual desire in a particular partner. In a series of tests, digitally manipulated faces were presented to subjects to be evaluated for attractiveness within the context of a long term or short term relationship. The results showed that within the context of a short term relationship, which is dependent on sexual desire, similar facial features caused a decrease in said desire. Within the context of a long term relationship, which is dependent on trust, similar facial features increased the attractiveness of an individual, leading one to believe that facial resemblance and trust have great effects on relationships.[15] Structure often creates trust in a person that encourages them to feel comfortable and excel in the workplace. Working anywhere may be stressful and takes effort. By having a conveniently organized area to work on, concentration will increase as well as effort. Structure is not just a method of order. It increases trust and therefore makes a workplace manageable. A structured, ordered environment produces trust as one may contain increased cooperation and perform on a higher level.

People may work together and achieve success through trust while working on projects that rely on each individual’s contribution.[16]

Conversely, where trust is absent, projects can fail, especially if this lack of trust has not been identified and addressed. This is one facet of VPEC-T analysis: This thinking framework is used when studying information systems. Identifying and dealing with cases where information providers, information users, and those responsible for processing information do not trust one another can result in the removal of a risk factor for a project.

One's social relationship characterized by low trust and norms that discourage academic engagement are expected to be associated with low academic achievement. Individuals that are in relationships characterized by high levels of social trust are more apt to openly exchange information and to act with caring benevolence toward one another than those in relationships lacking trust.[17]

An important key to treating sexual victimization of a child is the rebuilding of trust between parent and child. Failure for the adults to validate the sexual abuse contributes to the child's difficulty towards trusting self and others.[18] Trust is often affected by the erosion of a marriage[citation needed]. Children of divorce do not exhibit less trust in mothers, partners, spouses, friends, and associates than their peers of intact families. The impact of parental divorce is limited to trust in the father.[19]

The social identity approach

The social identity approach explains trust in strangers as a function of group-based stereotypes or in-group favouring behaviours based on salient group memberships. With regard to ingroup favoritism, people generally think well of strangers but expect better treatment from in-group members in comparison to out-group members. This greater expectation then translates into a higher propensity to trust an in-group rather than out-group member.[20][10][21] It has been pointed out that it is only advantageous to form such expectations of an in-group stranger if they too know the group membership of the recipient.[20]

There is conciderable emperical activity related to the social identity approach. Allocator studies have frequently been employed to understand group-based trust in strangers.[20][11][22][10] They may be operationalised as unilateral or bilateral relationships of exchange. General social categories such as university affiliation, course majors, and even ad-hoc groups have been used to distinguish between in-group and out-group members. In unilateral studies of trust, the participant would be asked to choose between envelopes containing money that was previously allocated by an in-group or out-group member.[20] They would have had no prior or future opportunities for interaction, simulating Brewer’s notion that group membership was sufficient in bringing about group-based trust and hence cooperation.[23] Participants could expect an amount ranging from nothing to the maximum value an allocator could give out. In bilateral studies of trust have employed an investment game devised by Berg and colleagues where individuals could choose to give a portion or none of their money to another.[24] Any amount given would be tripled and the receiver would then decide on whether they would return the favour by giving money back to the sender. Trusting behaviour on the part of the sender and the eventual trustworthiness of the receiver was exemplified through the giving of money.[20][21]

The above emperical research has demonstrated that when group membership is made salient and known to both parties, trust is granted more readily to in-group members than out-group members.[20][11][22] This occurred even when the in-group stereotype was comparatively less positive than an out-group’s (e.g. psychology versus nursing majors),[11] in the absence of personal identity cues,[21] and when participants had the option of a sure sum of money (i.e. in essence opting out of the need to trust a stranger).[10] In contrast, when only the recipient was made aware of group membership trust becomes reliant upon group stereotypes.[11][21] The group with the more positive stereotype was trusted (e.g. one’s university affiliation over another),[21] even over that of the in-group (e.g. nursing over psychology majors).[11] Another reason for in-group favouring behaviours in trust could be attributed to the need to maintain in-group positive distinctiveness, particularly in the presence of social identity threat.[22] It should also be noted that trust in out-group strangers increased when personal cues to identity were revealed,[21].


In the social sciences, the subtleties of trust are a subject of ongoing research. In sociology (and psychology) the degree to which one party trusts another is a measure of belief in the honesty, benevolence and competence of the other party. Based on the most recent research, a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of benevolence or honesty.

From this perspective, trust is a mental state, which cannot be measured directly. Confidence in the results of trusting may be measured through behavior, or alternatively, one can measure self-reported trust (with all the caveat surrounding that method). Trust may be considered a moral choice[How to reference and link to summary or text], or at least a heuristic, allowing the human to deal with complexities that outgo rationalistic reasoning. In this case, machine-human trust is meaningless, because computers have no moral sense and rely on rational computations. Any trust in a device under this characterization is computer-mediated trust of the user of the machine in the designer and creator of the device; who has implemented the rational rules into the device. Francis Fukuyama and Tyler are academics who advocate this conception of trust – as moral and not directly observable.

A second perspective in social theory comes from the classic Foundations of Social Theory by James S. Coleman. Coleman offers a four-part definition:

  1. Placement of trust allows actions that otherwise are not possible (i.e. trust allows actions to be conducted based on incomplete information on the case in hand).
  2. The person in whom trust is placed (trustee) is trustworthy, then the trustor will be better off than if he or she had not trusted. Conversely, if the trustee is not trustworthy, then the trustor will be worse off than if he or she had not trusted (this is reminiscent of a classical prisoner's dilemma).
  3. Trust is an action that involves the voluntary placement of resources (physical, financial, intellectual, or temporal) at the disposal of the trustee with no real commitment from the trustee (again prisoner's dilemma).
  4. A time lag exists between the extension of trust and the result of the trusting behavior.

The strength of Coleman's definition is that it allows for discussion of trust behavior. These discussions have been particularly useful in reasoning about human-computer trust, and trust behaviors.

Modern scholars trying to bring together issues of trusted systems, computer security, trust and technology include Jeroen van den Hoven, Helen Nissenbaum, Deborah Johnson, Jean Camp, and Ed Gerck.

A critical element in studies of trust behavior is power. One who is in a position of dependence cannot be said to trust another in a moral sense, but can be defined as trusting another in the most strict behavioral sense. Trusting another party when one is compelled to do so is sometimes called reliance, to indicate that the belief in benevolence and competence may be absent, while the behaviors are present. Others refer only to coercion.

Coleman's definition does not account for the distinction between trust(worthiness) as a moral attribute and trustworthiness as mere reliability. It is Annette Baier (Ethics, 1987) who characterizes contexts of trust as structures of interaction in which moral obligations act upon the trustees.

The substantive conflict in the social sciences is whether trust is entirely internal, and only confidence is observable, or whether trust behaviors (and self reported levels of trust) can meaningfully measure trust in the absence of coercion. Note however that many languages (e.g. Dutch or German) do not distinguish between the words trust and confidence, which is complicating this issue. The distinction between trust and confidence is an unsolved issue in current trust/confidence research.

In general, trust is essential as Social institutions (governments), economies, and communities require trust to function. Therefore trust and altruism are areas of study for economists, although these concepts go beyond strict rational economics.

See also


  1. Stages of Social-Emotional Development In Children and Teenagers
  2. DeNeve, Kristina M. (1998). The Happy Personality: A Meta-Analysis of 137 Personality Traits and Subjective Well-Being. Psychological Bulletin 124: 197–229.
  3. DeNeve, Kristina M. (1999). Happy as an Extraverted Clam? The Role of Personality for Subjective Well-Being. Current Directions in Psychological Science 8 (5): 141–144.
  4. Relationship and Risk taking
  5. Barbara Misztal, Trust in Modern Societies: The Search for the Bases of Social Order, Polity Press, ISBN 0-7456-1634-8
  6. Riki Robbins, Betrayed!: How You Can Restore Sexual Trust and Rebuild Your Life, Adams Media Corporation, ISBN 1-55850-848-1
  7. Four stages of trust
  8. Ed Gerck, Trust Points, Digital Certificates: Applied Internet Security by J. Feghhi, J. Feghhi and P. Williams, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-30980-7, 1998.
  9. Definition of trust
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Platow, M. J., Foddy, M., Yamagishi, T., Lim, L., & Chow, A. (2012). Two experimental tests of trust in in-group strangers: The moderating role of common knowledge of group membership. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 30-35.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Foddy, M., Platow, M.J., & Yamagishi, T. (2009). Group-based trust in strangers: The role of stereotypes and expectations. Psychological Science, 20, 419-422.
  12. Tanis, M., & Postmes, T. (2005). A social identity approach to trust: Interpersonal perception, group membership and trusting behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 413-424.
  13. DeConick, J. B. (2010). The effect of organizational justice, perceived organizational support, and perceived supervisor support on marketing employees’ level of trust. Journal of Business Research, 63, 1349-1355.
  14. DeBruine, Lisa (2002). Facial Resemblance Enhances Trust. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 269(1498): 1307-1312. DOI:10.1098/rspb.2002.2034
  15. DeBruine, Lisa (3). Trustworthy but not lust-worthy: context-specific effects of facial resemblance. Proceedings of the Royal Society B:Biological Sciences 272 (1566): 919–22.
  16. The Role of Trust in Organizational Settings, Kurt T. Dirks, Donald L. Ferrin, 2001
  17. Goddard, Roger. Relation Network, Social Trust, and Norms: A Social Capitol Perspective on Students' Chances of Academic Success
  19. King, Valarie. Parental Divorce and Interpersonal Trust in Adult Offspring. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 2002), pp. 642-656. Article Stable URL:
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 Foddy, M., & Dawes, R. (2008). Group-based trust in social dilemmas. In A. Biel, D. Eek, T. Garling, & M. Gustafsson (Eds.), New Issues and Paradigms in Research on Social Dilemmas (pp. 57-85). New York, USA: Springer Science and Business Media.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 Tanis, M., & Postmes, T. (2005). A social identity approach to trust: Interpersonal perception, group membership and trusting behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 413-424.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Guth, W., Levati, M.V., Ploner, M. (2006). Social identity and trust – An experimental investigation. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 37, 1293-1308.
  23. Brewer, M.B. (1999). The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love or outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues, 55, 429-444.
  24. Berg, J., Dickhaut, J., & McCabe, K. (1995). Trust, reciprocity, and social history. Games and Economic Behaviour, 10, 122-142

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