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CONTRIBUTOR / J. Keith Murnighan


There was little research into trust before 1995, when three scholars published a paper that identified integrity, competence, and benevolence as the critical elements of the concept. Since then, interest in trust has flourished among scholars. For example, one sociologist studied a group of mushroom hunters in Minnesota. He found that, despite the potential dangers, new members of the group would eat mushrooms they didn't recognize offered by people they barely knew, in the hope that doing so would ingratiate them with the group. Research shows that there is a solid basis for that hope: showing trust creates a relationship of reciprocity.


BUMPER: Key Research in the Discipline

There have been a bunch of articles on trust that are really important. In 1995, Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman wrote a theory paper on trust that introduced integrity, competence and benevolence as the three critical elements of trust.

Prior to 1995, there had been very little research on trust, for no good reason. Early ’60s and ’70s, there was a lot of work on personality and trust, and trust propensities, and how likely it is someone will trust.

And people would answer questions like, “I believe most people are honest” and other questions like that, and they would try and relate people’s responses to those to their behavior.

And there were moderate predictability but not very impressive. I think that’s kind of why the research on trust dissipated after the early ’70s.

Mayer, Davis and Schoorman were great at coming up with a very noteworthy article that said, “Let’s start studying trust again.”

And so, since the ’90s, there’s been an enormous amount of work on trust.

BUMPER: Trust and Rationality

Gary Alan Fine in our sociology department has written a book on the Minnesota Mycological Society.

And one of the things that he focuses on in this book that relates to trust is that new members of the society — after they’ve gone out mushroom hunting, they come back, they cook their mushrooms and eat them — new members will eat other people’s mushrooms when they haven’t even met the other person. Old members will not.

So, new members want to join, want to become part of the group, want to become members, want to be well thought of, so they say, “yes,” when they’re offered mushrooms that they don’t recognize by someone they’ve never met.

It’s pretty darn dangerous! People don’t choose theirs and are easier to pass it up when they’re already established members — pretty cool.

BUMPER: Trust and Reciprocity

“Attributions of Trust and the Calculus of Reciprocity” — one of my favorite article titles — Madan Pillutla and Deepak Malhotra and I varied how much trustors trusted and then observed how much trustees responded and found very clear indications that the more you trust, the more people respond and reciprocate, especially when they think you’re doing it in a smart way.

That was one of our first studies, and I just thought, very neat and clean and tells us a lot about the trust-reciprocation process.