IMPORTANT:This page has used Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia in either a refactored, modified, abridged, expanded, built on or 'straight from' text content! (view authors)

In a social context, trust has several connotations.[1] Definitions of trust[2][3] typically refer to a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor (voluntarily or forcedly) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other's actions; he can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.

Trust can be attributed to relationships between people. It can be demonstrated that humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness that can be traced to the neurobiological structure and activity of a human brain, and can be altered e.g. by the application of oxytocin.[4]

Conceptually, trust is also attributable to relationships within and between social groups (families, friends, communities, organisations, companies, nations etc.). It is a popular approach to frame the dynamics of inter-group and intra-group interactions in terms of trust.[5]

When it comes to the relationship between people and technology, the attribution of trust is a matter of dispute. The intentional stance[6] demonstrates that trust can be validly attributed to human relationships with complex technologies. However, rational reflection leads to the rejection of an ability to trust technological artefacts.[7]

One of the key current challenges in the social sciences is to re-think how the rapid progress of technology has impacted constructs such as trust. This is specifically true for information technology that dramatically alters causation in social systems.[8]

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, fairness, or benevolence of another party. The term "confidence" is more appropriate for a belief in the competence of the other party. Based on the most recent research[citation needed], 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.


When it comes to trust, sociology is concerned with the position and role of trust in social systems. Interest in trust has grown significantly since the early eighties, from the early works of Luhmann,[9] Barber [10] and Giddens[11] (see [12] for a more detailed overview). This growth of interest in trust has been stimulated by on-going changes in society, characterised as late modernity and post-modernity.

Trust is one of several social constructs, an element of the social reality.[13] Other constructs, frequently discussed together with trust, are: control, confidence, risk, meaning and power. Trust is naturally attributable to relationships between social actors, both individuals and groups (social systems). Because trust is a social construct, it is valid to discuss whether trust can be trusted (e.g.[14]), i.e. whether social trust operates as expected.

Society needs trust because it increasingly finds itself operating at the edge between confidence in what is known from everyday experience, and contingency of new possibilities. Without trust, all contingent possibilities should be always considered, leading to a paralysis of inaction. Trust can be seen as a bet on one of contingent futures, the one that may deliver benefits. Once the bet is decided (i.e. trust is granted), the trustor suspends his or her disbelief, and the possibility of a negative course of action is not considered at all. Because of it, trust acts as a reductor of social complexity, allowing for actions that are otherwise too complex to be considered (or even impossible to consider at all); specifically for cooperation.

Sociology tends to focus on two distinct views: the macro view of social systems, and a micro view of individual social actors (where it borders with social psychology). Similarly, views on trust follow this dichotomy. Therefore, on one side the systemic role of trust can be discussed, with a certain disregard to the psychological complexity underpinning individual trust. The behavioural approach to trust is usually assumed [15] while actions of social actors are measurable, leading to statistical modelling of trust. This systemic approach can be contrasted [16] with studies on social actors and their decision-making process, in anticipation that understanding of such a process will explain (and allow to model) the emergence of trust.

Sociology acknowledges that the contingency of the future creates dependency between social actors, and specifically that the trustor becomes dependent on the trustee. Trust is seen as one of the possible methods to resolve such a dependency, being an attractive alternative to control.[17] Trust is specifically valuable if the trustee is much more powerful than the trustor, yet the trustor is under social obligation to support the trustee.[18]

Modern information technologies not only facilitated the transition towards post-modern society, but they also challenged traditional views on trust. Empirical studies [19] confirms the new approach to the traditional question regarding whether technology artefacts can be attributed with trust. Trust is not attributable to artefacts, but it is a representation of trust in social actors such as designers, creators and operators of technology. Properties of technological artefacts form a message [20] to determine trustworthiness of those agents.

The discussion about the impact of information technologies is still in progress. However, it is worth noting a conceptual re-thinking of technology-mediated social groups,[21] or the proposition of a unifying socio-technical view on trust,[22] from the perspective of social actors.


In psychology, trust is believing that the person whom 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.[23]

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 people.[24] 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[25] 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[26] describes four stages of trust.[27]
  • In the context of Information theory Ed Gerck defines and contrasts trust with social functions such as power, surveillance, and accountability.[28][29]

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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35]


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).[36] 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).[37] Thus, trust is different from reliance in the sense that the truster must accept the risk of being betrayed.


Trust in economics is treated as an explanation for a difference between actual human behaviour and the one that can be explained by the individual desire to maximise one's utility. In economic terms, trust can provide an explanation of a difference between Nash equilibrium and Pareto optimum. Such an approach can be applied to individuals and well as societies.

Trust is also seen as an economic lubricant, reducing the cost of transactions, enabling new forms of cooperation and generally furthering business activities, employment and prosperity. This observation [38] created a significant interest in considering trust as a form of social capital and has led research into closer understanding of the process of creation and distribution of such capital. It has been claimed that higher level of social trust is positively correlated with economic development. Even though the original concept of 'high trust' and 'low trust' societies may not necessarily hold, it has been widely accepted and demonstrated that social trust benefits the economy [39] and that a low level of trust inhibits economic growth.

Theoretical economical modelling [40] demonstrated that the optimum level of trust that a rational economic agent should exhibit in transactions is equal to trustworthiness of the other party. Such a level of trust leads to efficient market. Trusting less lead to the loss of economic opportunities, trusting more leads to unnecessary vulnerabilities and potential exploitation.

Economics is also interested in quantifying trust, usually in monetary terms. The level of correlation between increase in profit margin [41] or decrease in transactional cost can be used as indicators of economic value of trust.

Economic 'trust games' are popularly used to empirically quantify trust in relationships under laboratory conditions. There are several games and game-like scenarios related to trust that have been tried, with certain preferences to those that allow to estimate confidence in monetary terms.[42] Games of trust are designed in a way that their Nash equilibrium differ from Pareto optimum so that no player alone can maximise his own utility by altering his selfish strategy without cooperation while cooperating partners can benefit.

The classical version of the game of trust has been described in [43] as an abstracted investment game, using the scenario of an investor and a broker. Investor can invest a fraction of his money, and broker can return only part of his gains. If both players follow their economical best interest, the investor should never invest and the broker will never be able to re-pay anything. Thus the flow of money flow, its volume and character is attributable entirely to the existence of trust.

The game can be played as one-off, or as a repetitive one, between the same or different sets of players, to distinguish between a general propensity to trust and trust within particular relationships. Several other variants of this game exist. Reversing rules lead to the game of distrust, pre-declarations can be used to establish intentions of players,[44] while alterations to the distribution of gains can be used to manipulate perception of both players. The game can be also played by several players on the closed market,[45] with or without information about reputation.

Other interesting games are e.g. binary-choice trust games,[46] the gift-exchange game [47] and various other forms of social games. Specifically games based on the Prisoners Dilemma [48] are popularly used to link trust with economic utility and demonstrate the rationality behind reciprocity.

The popularisation of e-commerce opened the discussion of trust in economy to new challenges while at the same time elevating the importance of trust, and desire to understand customer decision to trust.[49] For example, inter-personal relationship between the buyer and the seller has been dis-intermediated by the technology,[50] and had to be improved upon.[51] Alternatively, web sites could be made to convince the buyer to trust the seller, regardless of seller's actual trustworthiness (e.g.[52]) . Reputation-based systems improved on trust assessment by allowing to capture the collective perception of trustworthiness, generating significant interest in various models of reputation.[53]

Media studies

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

See also


  1. McKnight, D. H., and Chervany, N. L. (1996). [ The Meanings of Trust. Scientific report, University of Minnesota.
  2. Mayer, R.C., Davis J.H., Schoorman F.D. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of Management Review. 20 (3), 709-734.
  3. Bamberger, Walter (2010). "Interpersonal Trust – Attempt of a Definition". Scientific report, Technische Universität München. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  4. Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs M., Zak, P. J., Fischbacher, U., and Fehr, E. (2005) Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature 435, 2005, 673-676.
  5. Hardin, R. (eds.) (2002). Trust and trustworthiness. Russell Sage Foundation.
  6. Dennett, D.C. (1989) The Intentional Stance. Bradford Books.
  7. Shneiderman, B. (2000) Designing trust into online experiences. Communications of the ACM Volume 43, Number 12, Pages 57-59
  8. Luhmann, N. (2005) Risk: a sociological theory. AldineTransaction.
  9. Luhmann, N. (1979) Trust and Power. John Wiley & Sons.
  10. Barber, B. (1983) The Logic and Limits of Trust. Rutgerts University Press.
  11. Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration; Polity Press, Cambridge 1984
  12. Sztompka, P. (1999) Trust: A Sociological Theory. Cambridge University Press.
  13. Searle, J. R. (1995) The Construction of Social Reality. The Free Press
  14. Gambetta, D. (2000) Can We Trust Trust? In: Gambetta, D. (ed.) Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations, electronic edition, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, chapter 13, pp. 213-237.
  15. Coleman, J. (1990) Foundations of Social Theory. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  16. Castelfranchi, C., Falcone, R. (2000) Trust Is Much More than Subjective Probability: Mental Components and Sources of Trust. Proc. of the 33rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences-Volume 6.
  17. Mollering, G. (2005) The Trust/Control Duality: An Integrative Perspective on Positive Expectations of Others. In: Int. Sociology, September 2005, Vol. 20(3): 283–305. 2005.
  18. Baier, A. (1986) Trust and antitrust. Ethics, vol. 96, pp. 231-260. Reprinted in: Moral Prejudices. Cambridge University Press.
  19. Lacohée, H., Cofta, P., Phippen, A., and Furnell, S. (2008) Understanding Public Perceptions: Trust and Engagement in ICT Mediated Services. International Engineering Consortium.
  20. Bohmann, K. (1989). About the Sense of Social Compatibility. AI and Society. 3 (4), 323-331.
  21. Willson, M. A. (2006) Technically Together: Rethinking Community within Techno-society. Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
  22. Cofta, P. (2007). Trust, Complexity and Control: Confidence in a Convergent World. John Wiley and Sons.
  23. Stages of Social-Emotional Development In Children and Teenagers
  24. Relationship and Risk taking
  25. Barbara Misztal, Trust in Modern Societies: The Search for the Bases of Social Order, Polity Press, ISBN 0-7456-1634-8
  26. Riki Robbins, Betrayed!: How You Can Restore Sexual Trust and Rebuild Your Life, Adams Media Corporation, ISBN 1-55850-848-1
  27. Four stages of trust
  28. Ed Gerck, Trust Points, Digital Certificates: Applied Internet Security by J. Feghhi, J. Feghhi and P. Williams, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-20-130980-7, 1998.
  29. Definition of trust
  30. 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.
  31. 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
  32. The Role of Trust in Organizational Settings, Kurt T. Dirks, Donald L. Ferrin, 2001
  33. Goddard, Roger. Relation Network, Social Trust, and Norms: A Social Capitol Perspective on Students' Chances of Academic Success
  35. King, Valarie. Parental Divorce and Interpersonal Trust in Adult Offspring
  36. Baier, Annette (1986). Trust and Antitrust. Ethics 96(2): 231-260. Available at
  37. McLeod, Carolyn (2006). Trust. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at
  38. Fukuyama, F. (1996) Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, Touchstone Books.
  39. Zak, P. J., and Knack, S. (2001) Trust and growth. Economic Journal,111: 295-321.
  40. Braynov, S., and Sandholm, T. (2002) Contracting With Uncertain Level Of Trust. Computational Intelligence 18(4): pp. 501-514
  41. Resnick, P. (2006) The value of reputation on eBay: a controlled experiment. Experimental Economics, volume 9, Issue 2, Jun 2006, Page 79-101.
  42. Keser, C. (2003) Experimental games for the design of reputation management systems. IBM Systems J., vol. 42, no. 3.
  43. Berg, J., Dickhaut, J., and McCabe, K. (1995) Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History, Games and Economic Behavior 10, 122–142. Abstract.
  44. Airiau, S., and Sen, S. (2006) Learning to Commit in Repeated Games. In: Proc. of the Fifth Int. Joint Conf. on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS06).
  45. Bolton, G. E., Katok, E., and Ockenfels, A. (2003) How Effective are Electronic Reputation Mechanisms? An Experimental Investigation.
  46. Camerer, C., and Weigelt, K. (1988) Experimental Tests of a Sequential Equilibrium Reputation Model. Econometrica 56(1), pp. 1-36.
  47. Fehr, E., Kirchsteiger, G., and Riedl, A. (1993) Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation. Quarterly J. of Economics 108(May), pp. 437-60.
  48. Poundstone, W. (1992) Prisoner's Dilemma. Doubleday, NY.
  49. McKnight, D., H., Chervany, N. L. (2001) Conceptualizing Trust: A Typology and E-Commerce Customer Relationships Model. Proc. of the 34th Hawaii Int. Conf. on System Sciences.
  50. Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Polity Press. 1991.
  51. Golbeck, J. (2008). Computing with Social Trust. Springer.
  52. Egger, F. N. From Interactions to Transactions: Designing the Trust Experience for Business-to-Consumer Electronic Commerce. PhD Thesis, Eindhoven University of Technology (The Netherlands).
  53. Chang, E., Dillion, T., Hussain, F. K. (2006) Trust and Reputation for Service-Oriented Environments: Technologies for Building Business Intelligence and Consumer Confidence. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • Maister, David H., Green, Charles H. & Galford, Robert M. (2000) The Trusted Advisor. Free Press, New York

External links

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.