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Who do we actually trust?

New study by ISS-Researchers on betrayal aversion

A woman in a white suit from the back. She shakes the hand of another person, while crossing her fingers of the other hand behinder her back.

Trust is an important building block in any interpersonal relationship that people enter into. Even during the Corona pandemic, societies trust has been put to the test. It has long been suggested that a lack of trust is due to betrayal aversion. So, certain people distrust in order to avoid the negative consequences of betrayal.

A team from the Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology (ISS) led by Detlef Fetchenhauer has dealt with this topic. Two studies were conducted which found that this moral sensibility influences people to act trustfully, and that "principled trustfulness" may be more important for trust decisions than aversion to fraud. Perfecting our understanding of how trust works in people makes it possible to improve policy-making.

The scientists gained this insight on the one hand by conducting a trust game in which participants could be deceived by others if they decide to trust and on the other hand an "extended lottery game" in which the risk is not given by betrayal by other participants, but by pure chance. In both experiments, there were identical payouts and identical profit or loss probabilities. Nevertheless, the participants were more willing to make riskier decisions in the trust game and accepted the possibility of fraud. This behavior corresponds to the concept of "principled trustfulness": the negative emotions one experiences when one does not behave trustingly towards others are stronger than the fear of being deceived; even with anonymous, one-time interactions in a laboratory.