CONTRIBUTOR / J. Keith Murnighan
PROFESSOR OF MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONS, HAROLD H. HINES JR. DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF RISK MANAGEMENT
KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT / Management
Social psychologists are interested in trust because it allows people to interact more deeply and effectively. In particular, they seek to understand the process of developing trust and what happens when it is broken. A tool developed by economists, called the Trust Game, sheds light on these questions. One key finding is that displaying trust creates a sense of obligation to reciprocate. The greater the risk, the greater the sense of obligation created. But the bond of trust breaks down quickly when players shows little trust.
I was trained as a social psychologist. Social psychologists pay attention to normal behavior by normal people in everyday situations and try and figure out why we do funny things the way we do.
My whole approach is about interpersonal interactions. So, I’m looking at small groups, large groups, but people interacting with each other.
Game theory is all about how rational people interact with that. My take — I love game theory because it’s just beautiful, formal, clear theories, with clear assumptions and clear outcomes and clear predictions — it wasn’t designed to be behavioral, and it didn’t include emotional.
So, my research tends to look at, do these beautiful models actually play out behaviorally? Do emotions add to our understanding of what happens and why some of those predictions don’t work?
BUMPER: Fundamental Trust Questions in the Discipline
Our research on trust, folks, is on how trust develops, what happens when there’s a breach. And those, for us, are the two biggest questions because what we’d like to see is people benefit and have efficient, effective interactions.
Game theory is like that as well; you want to maximize your outcomes. And we’d like people to actually maximize what they get in their interactions, and trust has a lot to do with that.
If you can build trust, you can interact more deeply, more effectively, and people get more out of the situation.
Anyway, recently — not that recently, 1995 — a group of three wonderful economists created what we now call the Trust Game. And the Trust Game is a simple situation where two people will interact — they can interact face to face or anonymously.
One person, often referred to as player one — we don’t use the word “trust” in our experiments because we don’t want to cue that — player one gets an endowment, say, of 10 dollars.
They have a choice of how much to send to player two. They can send anything from 0 to all the 10 dollars.
They know that however much they send is going to be tripled on its way to player two. So, if they send the whole 10, player two is going to have 30 dollars, so they’re creating more.
Player two then has a choice to return as much or as little as they want to player one.
So, the question is (this is a great game) — player one trusts; player two reciprocates — what are the factors that lead to player one trusting? What are the factors that lead to player two reciprocating?
And one of the major findings that we have found and others have found as well is that the more player one trusts, the more risks they take, the more player two reciprocates.
So, player twos have this feeling that if player ones have trusted them so much, they’re obligated.
If player one doesn’t trust them much, their obligation goes way down fast. But if they’ve been trusted a lot, obligation feelings come up, and they’re much more likely to send back a high amount.
BUMPER: Looking Forward in the Discipline
Studies of trust have proliferated. And researchers are now trying to slice and dice different kinds of trust: Is distrust the opposite of trust? Or is it something altogether separate on its own?
There’s affective trust, more of a feeling; there’s cognitive trust, where you think it out and calculate.
So, there’s debate about concepts that — for instance, one definition of trust talks about integrity, benevolence and competence.
But when we ask people who do they trust, all three come out pretty high and they overlap in ways. So, are they really separable concepts? I don’t know.
You can have trust in your head; you can have cognitive trust, affective trust, feelings that somebody has integrity.
I am impressed mostly when people behave and act as if they trust someone because, for me, everything’s about behavior. The most important things are about behavior.
Your feelings and your thoughts, yes, take up a lot of people’s time. But I want to see what’s happening in action. And certainly, from a business standpoint, that’s more important.
There are debates in the field, and there will continue to be debates. And people will niggle and nitpick. And let’s just see what people do in important situations, and I think that will be the telling factor and build more understanding.