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KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT / Relationships in Psychology

You may not think that the same element of trust that allows you to be confident in the integrity of an advertised product is the same one that allows you to trust a romantic partner or coworker. However, Finkel demonstrates the very simple way in which this tends to be the case. Trust is engendered in things and people when there is a sense of predictability or familiarity that is positive. Has your partner consistently been there for you in difficult times? The reason you can trust that they will be there for you in the future is the same reason you can trust that a product you’re familiar with is being advertised truthfully.


A lot of the essential features are similar when we talk about trust in romantic relationships, friendships, coworker relationships, and so forth.

One of the things that’s been exciting among relationship scientists is just how many different ways we need to trust our romantic partners—at least in contemporary western societies.

So, in contrast to, say, 1800 in the US, today we’re much more dependent on our spouse for a broad range of psychological needs.

It used to be that we looked to our marriage for a relatively circumscribed set of goals, and we looked to our broader family and friendship network for all sorts of emotional support.

But increasingly, especially over the last 30 or 40 years, we’ve looked to our spouse to take on a larger and larger proportion of our most important psychological needs.

For example, the size of our intimate social networks—that is, friends, families, and so forth—has gotten smaller; the amount of time we spend with those people has been reduced; and the end result of all of that is that this one person has taken on enormous significance.

And so, the extent to which we have high trust in this one person is a stronger predictor of our overall well-being in life today than it ever has been in the past.

Bumper: Three stages of trust development in romantic and work relationships—predictability, dependability, and faith.

To a large extent, we go through a similar set of stages when we think about trust with people at the workplace.

For example, when we first get to know coworkers, we are really trying to figure out, can I predict the way they’re going to behave and respond in given situations?

Then over time, we start to conclude, what sort of person is this? Is this somebody that I can trust?

And then finally, if you have a long-term relationship at the workplace with someone, you can develop this sense of faith that the person is out there today and in the future and has your best interest at heart.

Bumper: Consumers Trust Familiar and Unfamiliar Brands Differently

We talk a lot about trust in interpersonal relationships, but one of the things I’ve been interested in is trust for inanimate objects. And one of the things that we’ve explored is trust for particular brands.

In one study, we played consumers radio advertisements, and at the end of the advertisement, we played a disclaimer—all the nice content comes first, then the disclaimer, and then the not nice content comes at the disclaimer.

But we manipulated whether the disclaimer comes at the regular pace that people talk or whether it’s super fast.

Now, the logic behind that manipulation is that fast disclaimers are cues that maybe somebody’s trying to pull a fast one on you, are cues to untrustworthiness.

And what we found is that consumers tended to be less trusting of the product that used the fast disclaimer relative to the normal-paced disclaimer, and they had lower purchase intention toward that product.

But in this research, we manipulated a second variable: Is this a product that you’re familiar with and already have some trust in, or at least some respect for? Or is this a new unknown product?

And we found something interesting. This fast disclaimer speed—the tendency for consumers to distrust you if you use a fast disclaimer—applies only to the unknown product.

And this harkens back to the idea of trust as faith—once you have gotten to know a brand particularly well, you’re no longer monitoring if they’re engaging in potentially untrustworthy behavior.

And so, even though they’re doing this fast disclaimer—this relatively untrustworthy thing that they might be trying to pull over on you—you stop attending to those sorts of cues.

In contrast, if you don’t know the brand and you’re monitoring the behavior of the brand or of the advertisement for the brand to try to develop an understanding, is this brand worthy of my trust?—that’s when you see that the fast disclaimers tend to be punished.