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In Context We Trust: A Social-Cognitive Theory of Trust

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posted on 01.08.2020, 00:00 by Timothy S Carsel
Interpersonal trust is an important facet of relationships, but current theories and research paradigms on interpersonal trust may be incomplete. Trust has traditionally been studied as either a trait of the individual or a facet of a specific relationship between two people. Although both approaches highlight different and important aspects of the psychology of trust, both approaches are limited in their ability to uncover more minute dynamics. In this paper, I proposed and tested a goal-specific theory of interpersonal trust, the Interdependent Goal Model of Interpersonal Trust (IGM). I argued that the trust between two people varies across the interdependent goals that are shared within a relationship and that this variability is important for understanding interpersonal relationships. If trust does vary meaningfully within a given relationship, then trait and relationship paradigms of interpersonal trust will be inappropriate to investigate this variability. Testing the hypotheses derived from the IGM required a methodology sensitive to the idiosyncratic goals and relationships of the participants. To this end, I employed a novel and ideographically-tailored survey in which participants described their current goals and best friend. After participants described their goals and best friend, they were asked to what extent they would trust their best friend across some of their most and least important goals. In line with my hypotheses, participants’ reported trust in their best friend varied across goals, and the degree to which participants’ best friend’s strength was relevant to the goal predicted the trust my participants reported placing in their best friend. In contrast to my hypotheses, participants reported greater trust in their best friend for more, relative to less, important goals, and the relevance of the best friends’ weaknesses to the goal was not predictive of trust. The IGM and associated research paradigm is a promising orientation to interpersonal trust. Intra-relational trust varies across the interdependent goals that are shared within a relationship, and this variability is predictable. More research is needed to better understand how trust operates within a relationship.



Cervone, Daniel


Cervone, Daniel



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Morelli, Sylvia Stahl, Tomas Demos, Alexander Skitka, Linda

Submitted date

August 2020

Thesis type