An evolutionary look at trust
When human babies are born they need caretakers to live and to survive early life. In order for parents or other caretakers to care for these new arrivals, they must have a reason, albeit an unconscious one, to pay attention to them. The concept of cuteness (1), in terms of a variety of facial and other anatomical characteristics applies.There are also parental anatomical characteristics, including facial symmetry (2), which help to facilitate the mutual trust bond.
The baby trusts that it will be taken care of and the parent trusts that it’s offspring will be healthy and strong enough to pass on genes to future generations,
There is also a trust bond between pack leaders and followers in the animal kingdom, which may be seen in the travel patterns of migrating birds, schools of fish and packs of hunters such as dogs. These animals are literally putting their trust in their leaders to help them to survive.
Trust and the brain
There also appears to be mechanisms within the brains of squirrels, for example, which will facilitate self trust as well as trust in their parents; as they leap from limb to limb 100 feet in the air; even on old and icy days.
In humans, some believe that a certain type of receptor (3) for the neurochemical dopamine can modify behavior so less trust is necessary. Those with more “d4 dopamine receptors” will tend to take part in more risky behaviors than the norm; in a response to “catching” the dopamine coursing through regions of their brains, This mechanism could be considered to modify self-trust.
Being worthy of trust
In addition to self-trust human athletes will put their trust in coaches, trainers and teachers at the risk of serious injury. “Extreme” gymnasts, yogis, martial artists and high divers fit into this trust category.
Similar mechanisms have evolved further to explain trust behaviors within groups.
Demonstrated skills and abilities on the part of the leader may be required to gain trust.
Trust in the workplace
For example, the leader within the workplace will be trusted if and when they exhibit certain behaviors which those being led perceive, consciously or unconsciously, as valuable.
Within organizations, these behaviors are particularly important for leaders:
- Keeping promises, such as those related to promotions and pay raises
- Respecting the work and personal time of employees
- Not discussing important matters which they promised to keep to themselves
- Avoiding passing blame for things the leader or friends have done
- Keeping expected time commitments
Those being led may be considered more worthy of trust by:
- Being absent or tardy only when necessary
- Completing assignments competently and on time
- Not gossiping about co-workers or leaders
- Refraining from stealing
- Avoiding misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Having a professional appearance with proper grooming
- Keeping a neat and clean work space
Of course, the degree of trust may also be modified by the status of their leader and their associated power to influence others.
When these tangible and implied contracts are breached, those affected may perceive that their survival is being threatened to a variety of degrees – depending on situations and circumstances.
The rookie soldier, police officer, or firefighter could literally lose their lives by loosing trust in their leaders, just like the squirrel, the fish, the bird or the dog could if they did not rust their lead.
The primary group (4), consisting of friends, as well as those from the line and staff relationships, depicted on organizational charts, can be equally impacted by breaches of trust.
It can be much more difficult to get trust back once it is gone. Of course not repeating the behaviors which caused the mistrust is the first order of business. Clearly explaining the reasons, at the right time and in a clear and straightforward manner could help one to get a second chance. In some cases it may be necessary to disconnect, at least temporarily, to avoid re stimulating the hurt caused.
Providing those hurt with critical incidents of times when trust breaker was trustworthy could be helpful in some cases if you are accurate, honest and sincere.
Actions as well as metacommunication (5), such as voice inflection, body language and eye movements, may be more important than words for regaining trust.
1) Glocker, Melania L. (2009), Baby Schema in Infant Faces Induces Cuteness Perception and Motivation for Caretaking in Adults. Ethology Vol 115, Mar, 1-12.
2) Bornstein, Marc H., Ferdinandsen, Kay; Gross, Charles G. (1981) Perception of symmetry in infancy
Developmental Psychology, Vol 17(1), Jan, 82-86.
3) Kreek, Mary Jeanne, et al, (2005) Genetic influences on impulsivity, risk taking, stress responsivity and vulnerability to drug abuse and addiction. Nature Neuroscience 8, 1450 – 1457.
4) Goodman, P.S. & D. P. Leyden, (1991) Familiarity and group productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 578-586.
5) Bekoff, M., (1972)The development of social interaction, play, and metacommunication in mammals: an ethnological perspective. The Quarterly Review of Biology. Vol 47, Dec