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A trusted party is presumed to seek to fulfill policies, ethical codes, law and their previous promises.

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 statement about what is otherwise unknown -- for example, because it is far away, cannot be verified, or is in the future.

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. In economics trust is often conceptualized as reliability in transactions. In all cases trust is a heuristic decision rule, allowing the human to deal with complexities that would require unrealistic effort in rational reasoning.



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, as in the legend of Damon and Pythias, 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 the classical prisoner's dilemma).
  3. Trust is an action that involves a voluntary transfer of resources (physical, financial, intellectual, or temporal) from the truster to 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.

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 (Trust and Antitrust, in Ethics, 1986) 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 both economists and management scientists[1] although these concepts go beyond strict rational economics.


In psychology trust is believing the person who you trust to do what you expect. 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.[2]

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 is the ability to trust, and trust propensity being able to rely on them Relationship and Risk taking. 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[3] 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[4] describes four stages of trust:
  • In the context of Information theory Ed Gerck defines and contrasts trust with social functions such as [5] power, surveillance, and accountability:

In addition to the social influence, in organizational settings, trust may have a positive influence on the behaviors, perceptions, and performances of a person. One factor that enhances trust in a human being is facial resemblance. Evidence shows through manipulation of facial resemblance in a two person sequential trust game that having similar facial features (facial resemblance) enhanced trust in their partner.[6] 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. [7]12/17/2008

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.[8]

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 the self and others.[9] Trust is often affected by the erosion of a marriage. 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. [10]


Some philosophers argue that trust is more than a relationship of reliance. Philosophers such as Annette Baier have made a difference between trust and reliance by saying that trust can be betrayed, whilst reliance can only be disappointed (Baier 1986, 235)[11]. Carolyn McLeod explains Baier's argument by giving the following examples: we can rely on our clock to give the time, but we do not feel betrayed when it breaks, thus, we cannot say that we trusted it; we are not trusting when we are suspicious of the other person, because this is in fact an expression of distrust (McLeod 2006)[12]. Thus, trust is different from reliance in the sense that the truster must accept the risk of being betrayed.


Economists have studied trust both on the individual level and at the level of societies. At the individual level, trust and trustworthiness (the reciprocation of trust) are often measured using the "trust game" [13]. In this game, all participants receive an endowment of money, for example, $10. After identical instructions and without any deception, participants are formed randomly into dyads and assigned the role of decision-maker 1 (DM1) or decision-maker 2 (DM2). DM1 is asked to decide what amount of money to transfer to DM2. This money is removed from DM1's account and, typically, tripled in DM2's account. The DM1 to DM2 transfer is thought to measure trust. DM2 is then told of the transfer and is given the opportunity to return some, all, or none of the largess to DM1. The DM2 to DM1 transfer measured trustworthiness. The subgame perfect Nash equilibrium is for DM2 to return nothing and for DM1 to therefore send nothing. Only 2-10% of DM2s use this strategy [14]. This behavior was not understood until Zak and colleagues demonstrated, using a neuroeconomics experiment with blood draws, that oxytocin is released by the brains of DM2s in proportion to the money they receive from DM1s. Oxytocin levels also predict the degree of trustworthiness (money returned) by DM2s [15] [16] Intranasal oxytocin infusion into human beings have demonstrated the causal relationship between oxytocin and trust [17] [18].

Mathematical models of trust at the level of societies have identified the types of environments that promote or inhibit trust. Surveys of trust levels, a component of social capital, show trust varying from two percent of Brazilians reporting that they trust their countrymen, to 65 percent of Norwegians reporting they trust those in their country [19]. Zak & Knack (2001) have shown that three factors account for this order-of-magnitude variation in trust: the economic environment (income and the income distribution), the legal environment (institutions that enforce contracts), and the social environment (social similarity or differences) . Empirical tests of this model show that these three factors account for 76% of the variation in trust levels across countries [20]. This paper also showed that trust is among the strongest predictors economists have found of whether a country's per capita income will grow or remain static. Trust works as an economic lubricant, reducing the transactions costs associated with investments and in this way, promoting new business formation, employment and prosperity. Zak & Knack report that a 15 percentage point increase in the proportion of people in a country who think others are trustworthy raises income per person by 1 percent per year for every year thereafter. The Zak & Knack (2001) model also predicts that if trust levels are too low, no income growth will occur. The low-trust poverty trap occurs for the countries in their sample when trust falls below 30%.

Media studies

  • Kelton; Fleischmann & Wallace (2008). Trust in Digital Information.
  • Kini, A., & Choobineh, J. (1998). Trust in electronic commerce:


  1. ^ Aidan Ward & John Smith, Trust and Mistrust: Radical Risk Strategies in Business Relationships, Wiley 2003, ISBN 0-4708-5318-2
  2. ^ Stages of Social-Emotional Development In Children and Teenagers
  3. ^ Barbara Misztal, Trust in Modern Societies: The Search for the Bases of Social Order, Polity Press, ISBN 0-7456-1634-8
  4. ^ Riki Robbins, Betrayed!: How You Can Restore Sexual Trust and Rebuild Your Life, Adams Media Corporation, ISBN 1-55850-848-1
  5. ^ Ed Gerck, in Trust Points, Digital Certificates: Applied Internet Security by J. Feghhi, J. Feghhi and P. Williams, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-20-130980-7, 1998.
  6. ^ DeBruine, Lisa Facial. Resemblance Enhances Trust
  7. ^ The Role of Trust in Organizational Settings, Kurt T. Dirks, Donald L. Ferrin, 2001
  8. ^ Goddard, Roger. Relation Network, Social Trust, and Norms: A Social Capitol Perspective on Students' Chances of Academic Success
  10. ^ King, Valarie. Parental Divorce and Interpersonal Trust in Adult Offspring
  11. ^ Baier, Annette (1986). Trust and Antitrust. Ethics 96(2): 231-260. Available at
  12. ^ McLeod, Carolyn (2006). Trust. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at
  13. ^ Berg, J., Dickhaut, J., and McCabe, K. (1995). Trust, reciprocity, and social history. Games and Economic Behavior, 10: 122–142
  14. ^ Camerer, C. (2003). Behavioral Game Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
  15. ^ Zak, P.J., Kurzban, R., and Matzner, W.T. (2004). The neurobiology of trust. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1032: 224–227.
  16. ^ PZak, P.J., Kurzban, R., and Matzner, W.T. (2005). Oxytocin is associated with human trustworthiness. Hormones and Behavior, 48: 522–527
  17. ^ Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P.J., Fischbacher, U., and Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin – a biological basis for trust. Nature, 435(2): 673–672
  18. ^ Zak, P. J. (2008). The Neurobiology of Trust. Scientific American, June:88-95
  19. ^ Zak, P. J. (2008). The Neurobiology of Trust. Scientific American, June:88-95
  20. ^ Zak, P.J. and Knack, S. (2001). Trust and growth. Economic Journal, 111: 295–321


  • Bachmann, Reinhard and Zaheer, Akbar (eds.)(2006). Handbook of Trust Research. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Bicchieri, Cristina, Duffy, John and Tolle, Gil (2004.) “Trust among strangers”, Philosophy of Science 71: 1-34.
  • Marková, I. & Gillespie, A. (Eds.) (2007). Trust and distrust: Socio-cultural perspectives. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing, Inc.[1]
  • Kelton, Kari; Fleischmann, Kenneth R. & Wallace, William A. (2008). Trust in Digital Information. JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, 59(3):363–374.
  • Kini, A., & Choobineh, J. (1998, January). Trust in electronic commerce: Definition and theoretical considerations. Paper presented at the Thirty-FirstnHawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Kohala Coast, HI.

See also

External links

  • Stony Brook University is presently (2006 through 2009) hosting weekly seminars on the issue of trust in the personal, religious, social, and scientific realms as part of the Templeton Foundation's Research Lecture series and all of the talks and discussions are recorded and available online: via iTunes or via RSS More detailed information and a list of the seminars and participants is available here
  • World Database of Trust Harvey S. James, Jr., Ph.D (Updated August 2007) A variety of definitions of trust are collected and listed.

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