What is the glue that sticks us together?

Human beings naturally interact with each other. This social behaviour is allowed by a powerful element existing between us: trust. At ISTC the Trust, Theory and Technology Group (T3) works to build up a complete theory of trust. 

What is trust? Is it a mental attitude? An intention? A behaviour? And why is trust so important to stick people together? At ISTC the Trust, Theory and Technology Group (T3) aims at finding an answer starting from the mind of a trusting agent. The underlying idea is that we need a cognitive architecture, built up by beliefs and goals, to adequately address trust. This perspective is against the reductive view of trust as simple reciprocity: In T3 socio-cognitive model, trust is not only conceived as an attitude towards the other, but also as a willingness, a decision to rely on people around us. This makes us vulnerable and dependent from them even if there is not reciprocity at all.

Trust is therefore considered as a complex relation made up of mental ingredients: shared beliefs and common goals. If a person trusts a friend, he/she thinks that there are some motivations that will lead her/his friend to act in a certain way on the basis of common views. There is an underlying motivation that drives trusting agents toward a shared expectation involving elements as honesty and reputation. In this framework it is quite clear why we trust friends. First we believe they want our good, they want to help us; thus they both will adopt our request and will keep their promise. Moreover they do not have reasons for damaging us, and even if there are some selfish interests, friendship will prevail.

Besides these internal aspects, which are related to the trustee's mind, there are also external elements playing a crucial role in the process of reliability evaluation. This kind of trust has little to do with internal beliefs, and is related instead to the world's condition. That is, the general context in which the trustee operates. This explains the reason why we can trust someone only because we find he/she in a generally considered trustable context (i.e. school).

Finally, there are quantitative aspects to be considered: trust can be measured by the strength of those mental ingredients (beliefs and goals), which generate it. In fact trust has degrees: we can trust someone more or less depending on different elements. And there is a threshold under which trust is not enough. The degree of X's trust in Y is grounded on the cognitive components of X's mental state of trust. The degree of trust can serve as a rational basis for the decision of relying and betting on Y: together with the importance or utility of a goal, the degree of trust contributes to the evaluation of the risk. So the quantitative dimensions of trust are based on the quantitative dimensions of its cognitive constituents.

T3 group believes this approach can be useful to understand complex social phenomena besides trust, from economic exchanges to artificial environments. 

Contact: Rino Falcone

ISTC Group: Trust, Theory and Technology Group