The Trust Project at Northwestern University

The Trust Project at Northwestern University

Explore Trust in Research, Business and Society

The Trust Project at Northwestern University aims to create a unique body of knowledge about Trust by connecting scholars and executives from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and research. Featuring academics from across Northwestern University and executives from across industries, the videos represent different perspectives on Trust and connect research findings to real-world scenarios.

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The videos cover three core areas:

Foundations

How academic disciplines view Trust
Trust in healthcare is especially critical when a child's health and well-being is at stake.

Trust and Vulnerability: A Pediatrician's Perspective

Foundations
Contributor / Kelly Michelson
Kelly Michelson Pediatrics Definitions,Distrust,Government,Healthcare,Institutions and Context,Regulation,Reputation Management,Vulnerability Trust is really about relationships. And it can be relationships between people; it can be relationships between a person and an organization; or it can even be between people and events.

People actually have different definitions for trust, and I think it’s important to think about, what do we mean by trust? Some would call it an “action based on expectations of how others will behave in relation to yourself in the future.”

Another definition of trust that applies well in the healthcare setting is the following: “the optimistic acceptance of a vulnerable situation in which the trustor believes the trustee will care [in the] trustor’s interest.”

There are some parts of that definition worth emphasizing — in particular, this notion of “vulnerability,” that there has to be some sense of vulnerability in a trusting relationship, whether it starts from that place or develops into a vulnerable place.

So, you can imagine having a relationship with someone, and once you’re very trusting of that person, that actually can make you more vulnerable.

More commonly in the healthcare setting, though, we see a patient who because of their illness, has some inherent vulnerability, and that helps to set up a situation where trust can build.

Another important piece of this definition is this concept of motivation — the idea that, in a trusting relationship, one person is doing something caring for another person or something in another person’s best interest.

And finally, embedded within this definition is the notion that trust is a forward-looking concept. While it may be influenced by past events, it really describes how a person or organization behaves moving forward.

BUMPER: Trust and Distrust


In talking about what trust means, we also have to consider what’s meant by “distrust.” And while the jury’s kind of out about a clear definition, I think there’s some important things to talk about.

Some people would talk about distrust as the absence of trust, the lack of familiarity, sort of not having a feeling one way or another.

Another way to look at distrust is that it’s the opposite of trust, that it’s a situation where a person is pessimistic or concerned about another person’s motivations.

And finally, one can think about distrust as a substitute for trust, not necessarily the opposite of trust. So, at some level, you can have distrust and trust at the same time.

For example, maybe I get sent to an emergency room, and I feel confident about the situation because I know it’s a good emergency room. But something happens, and I sort of feel like, “Well, I’m going to hold out and reserve judgment.”

So, you can kind of share a sense of trust and distrust simultaneously — this notion about trusting, but “let me make sure that’s really the case.”

BUMPER: Trust in Individuals and Systems

When we talk about trust in health care, I think it’s important to consider it in relationship to different groups: you can have individuals, and you can have systems.

Even in this individual group, you can identify differences. So, you can have a particular one individual — a doctor or a nurse. Or you can have kind of an institution that’s an individual institution within a larger group — so, maybe one hospital within a whole healthcare system.

And then you can also look at it from a more systems perspective. And even in that context, there are more individuals and then more institutional things.

For example, maybe the group or system of how emergency doctors function or how surgeons tend to function is maybe a more systems approach — or you have how a particular institution (how hospitals work) can also be a more systems-based perspective.

The other thing to keep in mind is that relationships can be personal and they can be impersonal in the healthcare system. So, again, I use the individual doctor with their patient as a very personal relationship.

And even a patient may have a personal relationship with a hospital. You can imagine having a feeling of trust for a particular hospital and, in that way, kind of personalizing that relationship.

You may have someone who doesn’t believe in western medicine. So, even this concept of western versus non-western — this system of western medicine versus non-western medicine — is important for some patients.

Research

Significant findings in the study of Trust
The philosophy of trust explains why we choose to rely upon others.

The Philosophy of Trust: Key Findings

Research
Contributor / Sanford Goldberg
Sanford Goldberg Philosophy Breaches,Definitions,Government,Reputation Management,Social Psychology Philosophers are very interested in the nature of trust. And, in this brief segment, what I’d like to do is try to give a taxonomy of the variety of positions that philosophers have taken on that nature.

In order to do so, I’m going to make one simplifying assumption, which itself is not uncontroversial but is widely shared, which is the assumption that trust is a kind of reliance: to trust someone is to rely on them in a certain kind of way.

And the question that philosophers ask is, what is the type of reliance that constitutes trust?

So, let’s think about trust as follows: to trust someone to do something is to rely on them to do it and to do so out of a certain attitude towards the proposition that they will do it for the right reasons.

If you think of that as the basic nature of trust, the philosophical questions are two: What is the right attitude? And what are the right reasons? And you can think of philosophical disputes about the nature of trust as disputes along one of those two dimensions.

Let’s begin by focusing first on the attitude question. If to trust someone is to rely on them out of an attitude that you take towards the proposition that they’ll do what you trust them to do for the right reasons, the question is, what is the attitude that you have towards the proposition that they’ll do it for the right reasons?

This view derives from a paper by Diego Gambetta entitled “Can We Trust Trust?” And according to Gambetta, we believe that people will do things for the right reasons, and it’s that belief that underwrites our reliance on them.

I call this the “belief view.” This view came under scrutiny among philosophers in a very influential 1986 paper by Annette Baier entitled “Trust and Antitrust.”

She disagreed with the belief view and thought that the attitude central to trust couldn’t be just believing that the person will do what she’s trusted to do for the right reasons.

The problem with the belief view, according to Baier, was two-fold: first, it failed to distinguish trust from mere reliance, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly), it failed to make sense of the idea that when you trust someone and your trust is violated, you feel a sense of betrayal rather than mere disappointment.

And, in fact, that thought that the violation of trust occasions a sense of betrayal, not mere disappointment, has led many philosophers, after Baier, to think that the belief view is false.

A second view, again concerning the attitude that’s central to trust, is what I would call the “affective attitude view.” This view is owed to a philosopher by the name Karen Jones, who wrote a paper entitled “Trust as Affective Attitude.”

And what she wanted to try to capture was the idea that there is an emotional flavor to trusting. So, her thought was that the attitude central to trust wasn’t mere belief but was something like a felt optimism towards the proposition that the person will do what she’s trusted to do for the right reasons.

That view too has come under some scrutiny. And an objection derives from a 1960 paper by the philosopher Horsburgh entitled “The Ethics of Trust,” suggesting that there are cases in which we trust even though we feel no optimism about the likelihood that the person will do as we’re trusting her to do.

The sort of trust that Horsburgh talked about was what he called “therapeutic trust.” These are cases in which you trust someone not because you’re optimistic that they’ll do as you trust them to do but because you’re hoping that they will recognize that you’re trusting them to do this and that itself will get them to do as you trust them to do.

This sort of therapeutic trust doesn’t conform to the attitude that the affective account lays down. Nevertheless, many philosophers continue to think that there is an affective attitude towards trust, and some have suggested that the best way to think about therapeutic trust, cases where it seems as though there’s no such attitude, are as exceptions to a more general rule.

Cases of the therapeutic trust kind have become interesting to philosophers for another reason, explored at length in Phillip Pettit’s 1996 paper, “The Cunning of Trust.”

Pettit argued that in these kinds of cases, where you trust someone in the hope that their recognition of being trusted will actually make them trustworthy, both gives them a reason to be trustworthy and gives you a reason to believe them — to believe that they’re trustworthy.

So, these kinds of cases have become interesting in their own right.

In reaction to these kinds of cases and in defense of the affective attitude view, two recent papers have suggested that the attitude of optimism is in fact appropriate in all cases of trust that aren’t of the sort that we call therapeutic trust.

For example, Karen Jones in a recent paper entitled “Trust and Terror” and Victoria McGeer in a paper entitled “Trust, Hope and Empowerment” have argued that in all cases of trust that aren’t therapeutic trust, this sort of optimism is in fact appropriate.

A third view about the relevant sort of attitude that constitutes trust is owed to Richard Holton in a paper entitled “Deciding to Trust.” He calls this view the “participant stance view”: to trust someone is to take a participant stance towards them.

The attitude that you have towards the proposition that they’ll do what you trust them to do for the right reason is the attitude of expecting them to do so, with the disposition to feel a sense of betrayal if they don’t.

That view, however, appears to assume one of the things that we would like our theory to explain — namely, why it is that a sense of betrayal is appropriate when one’s trust is violated.

This brings us to the fourth view about the sort of attitude that constitutes trust, a view that’s known as the “normative expectation view.”

To trust someone is to normatively expect them to do what you trust them to do for the right reasons, where to normatively trust someone is to impose a standard on them where you regard them as being such that they ought to do it.

This view, which might be seen as a special case of either the belief view or the participant stance view, has been developed in Walker’s recent book entitled Moral Repair.

Two excellent resources for philosophical approaches to trust are Carolyn McLeod’s entry trust in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Judith Simon’s entry trust in the Oxford Bibliographies online.

I, myself, have relied heavily in this presentation on those two resources.

Applications

Actionable insights for practice

Regulating Trust: Love It or Hate It?

Applications
Contributor / Kent Grayson
Kent Grayson Marketing Institutions and Context,Regulation,Reputation Management,Sharing Economy,Social Psychology BUMPER: Regulating Trust: Love it or Hate it?

When we think about trust in the marketplace, we’re usually thinking about trust between the buyer and the seller and, do I trust you enough to give you money so that when you give me a product or when you provide a service, that it’s going to be good?

But there’s another level of trust that exists in exchange relationships, and that’s trust in the context in which the exchange occurs.

There’s a lot of research on the relationship between institutional trust and individual trust, and some research suggests that the more institutional trust exists, the less people feel like they have to build trusting relationships, because they’re protected by the institution.

But there’s also research that suggests that the more we trust in institutions, that provides a useful foundation for building even stronger trust with exchange partners. And the jury is still out on which is true and which isn’t.

A lot of firms don’t like to be monitored by professional associations, and they don’t like rules and laws that keep them from doing things that they might want to do with customers, and those laws and rules can make companies be less efficient and less profitable.

But they can also enhance the trust that the customer has in the institutions that protect trust and without them, the consumer may not want to engage with firms in the entire category.

And this is particularly relevant for new industries. We hear a lot about the sharing economy. One of the problems about some companies that operate in the sharing economy is that these institutions don’t necessarily exist which protect consumers from these problems.

If you’re working in a sector where there isn’t institutional trust, you have to build your trust one person at a time. At the grassroots level. And it seems like, for some of the companies that are operating in the sharing company, that if they do that and they start to build a critical mass, then the critical mass of trust within a particular social network serves as a certain institutional trust.

BUMPER: When Trust Makes Things Too Easy

Based on the research that I’ve done with a colleague in the mountain climbing industry, it seems that as consumers, when we’re going about our daily decision-making process, we sometimes are willing to place faith in institutions without necessarily knowing what those institutions do and without investigating.

So, the FDA — people think, “Oh, well, I’m going to buy this new product because the FDA approved it.” But there are lots of people who think the FDA is not very trustworthy. And there are reasons to maybe think that in certain product categories.

But many people still sort of, almost without thinking about it—it makes things easy. As I mentioned, institutional trust makes things easy for consumers. They believe, “OK, well I can trust this,” when that trust is misplaced.

And the amount of implicit trust (let me put it this way), the amount of implicit trust that exists in the institution of guiding and maybe in the professional associations that monitor is amazing to me as someone who doesn’t climb mountains.

They say, “Well, I went to a website, and I found this person, and my friend says they’re good, so I signed up for them to give them 60,000 dollars, to have them take me to the highest peak in the world where I might die.” And they’re still willing to place trust.
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