Trust can be found at the foundation of nearly every healthy relationship. Romantic, intimate, social, altruistic, professional, and casual relationships are all built upon some level of trust. Distrusting relationships, by contrast, have been shaped by a lack of trust. In the study of trust, theories have developed suggesting that trust is most important when conflict exists. In other words, when people disagree, that is when trust can have the largest impact. But does the severity of conflict influence the impact of trust? The answer to this question will not only help people understand the nuances of their individual relationships, but can also provide insight into social, professional, and global cooperative efforts.
Daniel Balliet of the Social and Organizational Psychology Department at VU University in the Netherlands recently conducted a meta-analysis to find the answer to this critically important question. Using data from 212 different outcome factors on interpersonal and group conflicts across numerous countries, Balliet examined how conflict influenced the power of trust. Balliet discovered that conflict, culture, and competiveness all had bearings on the power of trust. The first was related to conflict severity. Balliet said, “Trust matters most in situations that contain greater amounts of conflicting interests.” This was especially true in interpersonal relationships. In fact in group relationships, groups with high levels of conflicting ideas were motivated by competiveness, which weakened the effect of trust. However, in interpersonal relationships, competitiveness was diminished and trust became a more salient factor.
Balliet also found that trust varied by culture. In particular, trust predicted cooperation in Switzerland, England, and the Netherlands. But in other countries, including Singapore, Canada, and the United States, the spirit of cooperation was fueled much more modestly by trust. Overall, these results underscore the importance of trust on different types of relationships. The findings presented here provide a new look at exactly how trust shapes the outcomes of varying degrees of conflict among different groups of people. This information can be the first step on a pathway to more cooperative interactions throughout political, social, and industrial arenas.
Balliet, D., and Van Lange, P. A. M. (2012). Trust, conflict, and cooperation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030939
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