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Did you know that people tend to act trustingly towards strangers even if they are skeptical about their trustworthiness?

January 2022

[This content is not available in "Englisch" yet]

[This content is not available in "Englisch" yet]

That trust is paramount to the functioning of nearly all human interactions is nothing new, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the importance of trust (from our neighbors up until our government) even more salient. It has been long theorized that the lack of trust in a given situation would be due to betrayal aversion, i.e., to avoid showcasing trust in order to avoid the negative feelings of being betrayed.

However, in two studies conducted at the ISS, there was no sign of betrayal aversion to be found. One study conducted a so-called “Trust Game”, in which participants might be betrayed by others if they choose to trust, and another study conducted an “Extended Lottery Game”, in which risk is given not by another participant’s betrayal, but by pure chance in a lottery.

Even though both games had identical payoffs and identical probabilities of winning or losing, participants were consistently more willing to make a risky decision when playing the Trust Game, with the possibility of being betrayed. This speaks for the concept of “principled trustfulness”: the negative emotions one experiences when they do not act trustingly towards others is stronger than the fear of being betrayed, even in anonymous, one-time interactions in a laboratory.

It has been shown that moral emotions influence people towards acting with trust, and that principled trustfulness might be more important to trust decisions than betrayal aversion. Perfecting our understanding of how trust functions in humans will allow to further improve policy-making.