Who Can You Trust?

Posted on September 26, 2018

How do you know who you can trust?
A recent experiment suggests that an individual’s guilt-proneness is one of the strongest predictor of one’s trustworthiness.
This relationship is also expected to be mediated by one’s sense of responsibility.

While guilt is often thought to be a reactive emotion – often experienced after a mistake or misbehavior – guilt-proneness measures the tendency of the individual to anticipate experiencing guilt before committing a mistake and thus motivates him or her to avoid making the mistake in the first place.

The researchers hypothesized that high levels of guilt-proneness is related to a similarly high willingness to take responsibility for their actions, thereby making these individuals trustworthy.

That is not to say that guilt-prone people are always prosocial; but rather, they are dependable individuals when the occasion calls for it. This is because when guilt-prone individuals know that others depend on them, they are sensitive to the expectations that others have placed on them and thus feels the responsibility to match up to the expectations.

The present study used an economic trust game – participants are allocated a sum of money and they can choose whether to keep the money or to pass it to the other participant, termed as the “trustee”. If the money is given to the trustee, the trustee can decide whether to keep all the money or return some of it back to the truster. Hence, the trust in this game depends on how much the truster trusts the trustee.

In addition, the participants were also assessed on various elements of their personality, such as their guilt-proneness, responsibility, trust and other similar aspects.

The results of the present study showed a positive correlation between guilt-proneness and trustworthiness in the economic trust game.

The researchers also found that when the cues signaling responsibility was made salient, it increased interpersonal responsibility, and thus predicted trustworthy behavior in the hypothesized direction. This was found to be true for both high and low guilt-prone participants. Thus, this highlighted the significance of responsibility in explaining why guilt-prone individuals were more likely to display trustworthy behavior.

Furthermore, the predictability of guilt-proneness on trustworthy behavior was further amplified by the truster’s level of vulnerability – when trusters passed a lot of money to the trustee, they made themselves more vulnerable (to be exploited, cheated of their money etc.) which then led the trustee to perceive a higher level of expectations placed on them by the truster. As a result, though guilt-prone individuals were not prosocial all the time, a high level of perceived vulnerability of the truster led to corresponding prosocial behavior on the trustee’s part.

In conclusion, though previous literature in personality psychology suggested that several other personality traits, such as humility, kindness, generosity etc. could predict trustworthy behavior, the present study proposed that guilt-proneness may be a better predictor of trustworthiness.

Category(s):Other, Personality problems, Trust Issues

Source material from Psychology Today