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The outstretched hand, a sign of confidence building

Trust describes the subjective conviction (or also the feeling for or belief in) of the correctness , truthfulness of actions , insights and statements or the honesty of persons. Trust can relate to another person or to oneself ( self-confidence ). Confidence also includes the conviction of the possibility of action and the ability to act. One then speaks more of confidence. The opposite of trust is mistrust.

In addition to this psychological- personality-theoretic approach , which seeks the source of trust in socialization-related or culturally mediated personality structures, there are economic, sociological, political and social-psychological theories ( transaction-analytical models ) that attempt to establish trust in institutional contexts (e.g. in organizations) or in interpersonal relationships.

A situation relevant to trust takes place in an interactional context. Here the interaction partner has the option of choosing a behavioral alternative that can have negative consequences for the trusting individual; that is the risk of the trusting person in this communicative structure. Because the trusting individual is in a certain sense exposed to the control of the interaction partner.

Word origin and conceptual history

Trust has been known as a word since the 16th century ( Old High German : “fertruen”, Middle High German : “vertruwen”) and goes back to the Gothic trauan . The word "trust" belongs to the group of words around "loyal" = "strong", "firm", "thick". In Greek it stands for "πίστις" (pistis) ("faith"), in Latin "fiducia" (self-confidence) or "fides" (loyalty). In ancient and medieval usage, trust stands in the area of ​​tension between loyalty and faith (e.g. with Democritus , who demands not to trust everyone but only those who have been tried and tested). For Thomas Aquinas , trust is hope, confirmed by experience, for the fulfillment of expected conditions under the premise of trust in God. Since the beginning of modern times - beginning with Thomas Hobbes for example - trust has always been a trust in one's own abilities (self-confidence).


Trust is a phenomenon that occurs in unsafe situations or when the outcome of an action is risky: Those who can be sure of something do not have to trust. But trust is also more than just belief or hope , it always needs a foundation, the so-called "trust foundation". This can be experiences, but also the trust of a person you trust yourself, or institutional mechanisms. Trust is partially transferable. Giving all of your trust in someone can be very exciting, for example the trust a child puts in a father when he jumps down into his outspread arms. This applies to both the father and the child. The story is often told figuratively - as trusting God .

Dimensions of trust

“Trust is the will to show oneself vulnerable.” This simple sentence encompasses several dimensions of trust: 1. Trust arises in situations in which the person who trusts (the trust-giver) can lose more than he can gain - he risks damage or injury. 2. Trust manifests itself in actions that increase one's vulnerability. You submit yourself to the trust-taker and start making a leap in trust. 3. The reason one surrenders oneself is the positive expectation that the trustee will not use the situation to the detriment of the trustee.

Basics of the trust relationship

From a psychological point of view, the term trust describes an important dimension of identity formation. Trust as a conglomerate of feeling and the associative underlying experiences can form in early childhood experiences in contact with important caregivers (the basic trust / basic trust).

Depending on the duration and intensity of a relationship and depending on the information basis, trust relates to:

Trust relationships are often based on reciprocity . Identification-based trust is based on shared experiences and previous actions as well as on mutual understanding . In partnerships , mutual trust flourishes the more sensitively the partners respond to each other's feelings .

Situation-based trust

In a rationalistic, decision-oriented approach, the following prerequisites exist for situation-based trust to develop:

  • The value of future cooperation must exceed the value of immediate non-cooperation.
  • A possible non-cooperation must be observable and discoverable.
  • The trust-giver must be willing and able to punish the non-cooperator.

Trust can be increased by giving or gaining information (trust-building measures). In the longer term, strategies that are based on trust and lead to cooperation often win more than strategies that are based on distrust. Situation-based trust is often not “real trust” when there is no vulnerability. But it is a foundation for the following “real forms” of trust.

Property-based trust

Three expectations of the personal characteristics that the cooperation partner should have are the basis of a leap of faith that you give him:

  • Competence expectation, i.e. the expectation that the cooperation partner is competent in his domain,
  • Integrity expectation, i.e. the expectation that he does not pursue any hidden strategies that are dangerous for his partners,
  • Benevolence expectation , whereby Benevolence means an optimistic-open (literally benevolent) attitude towards other people and relationships, which is not characterized by special actions, but by good will and general inclination. Benevolence is also considered to be a basic requirement for exchange and trade in economic theory and should not be confused with altruism .

Identification-based trust

Identification-based trust is based on four components from a social-psychological perspective:

  • Requirements: close cooperation, openness and regular communication
  • Identification with the partner's values, goals and needs
  • Community between those who trust
  • Mutual sympathy and the development of an emotional bond

Trust in sociology

Trust as an intermediate state between knowing and not knowing

Georg Simmel distinguishes between the “mystical” belief in people and the social form of trust. This is an intermediate state between knowing and not knowing, i.e. a “hypothesis of future behavior”. This must be certain enough to “base practical action on it.” However, there is no clear connection between the degree of knowledge or ignorance and the associated form or intensity of trust; because with very little knowledge as well as with exact knowledge, both great trust and mistrust in another person or group can develop. In the rationalized "association of purposes", for example in the context of monetary relations or - in modern terms - in general in the context of clearly defined role systems, the actors usually only know "what is necessary to know about the relationship to be established" about their partners. In doing so, Simmel discovered the socially constitutive function of ignorance for modern societies: the more differentiated a society, the lower the chance of identification-based trust and the greater the ignorance about the other actors, without which situation-based trust would not be possible at all, without which in turn objectified social relationships would hardly be possible would work.

Trust in social ties

Trust as a mechanism for reducing complexity

For Niklas Luhmann , the basis of trust (i.e. ultimately trust in one's own expectations) is the "present as a permanent continuum ..., as the entirety of the stocks in which events can occur". In the context of social interactions, this trust has the function of reducing the complexity of the possibilities to a level that allows the individual to remain able to act in his environment.

Swift Trust

A special form of situation-based trust is interesting from a sociological-institutional as well as a socio-psychological-relationship-oriented perspective: the so-called Swift Trust (rapid, fleeting trust), which arises or has to arise when a heterogeneously composed temporary working group immediately starts work should begin without time to build trust beforehand. One example is the film production team, in which the actors hardly know each other beforehand and cannot yet fully understand their own tasks. You have to trust yourself almost blindly from day one. Similar processes are characteristic of many ad hoc virtual teams.

Prerequisites for the formation of Swift Trust include: a.

  • similarly oriented activities through joint reward in the event of success or joint punishment in the event of failure (e.g. the opportunity to gain fame or to embarrass oneself through the film)
  • the feeling of strong mutual dependency (think of the stuntman in a film production and the team members who secure him)
  • limited time (too much time leads to selfish or unproductive activities)
  • sufficient material resources to avoid resource conflicts
  • Focusing on professionalism, not on the person involved, of the actors involved
  • strict task and process orientation, avoidance of personal problems and refrain from personal criticism
  • and above all a trust broker with transparent action who appoints and dismisses the team members and is responsible for the professionalism of each individual.

From these findings, in turn, conclusions can be drawn for an effective (re) organization of the generally time-consuming and expensive trust-building processes in everyday work.

Trust and control

Trust and control are two equal components of cooperation. Trust is beneficial for behaviors that are not observable (e.g. taking breaks). Depending on the complexity of the task and the organizational structure, the range of trust and control vary. When there is trust, there is little need for control, but loss of trust increases the need for control. For the development of creativity, innovation and flexibility, greater room for maneuver and thus trust are required.

Confidence in economics

In economics, trust is examined in the context of decision theory, game theory and organizational psychology, often using the so-called trust game (including various modifications and extensions of this game). The game paradigmatically illustrates the behavioral risk that the trusting person (one speaks of the trust-giver) faces when they make themselves dependent on the future behavior of another person (trust-taker).

  • At the level of decision theory, the main question is which (1) factors influencing the decision-making situation (e.g. degree of conflict of interest, symmetrical or asymmetrical level of information) and (2) which personality factors on the part of the trust-giver (e.g. social risk tolerance, cognitive dissonance etc.) be able to justify trusting behavior.
  • In game theory analyzes, the focus is on the interaction with the recipient of the trust. In the context of the trust game, both the willingness (= probability for a trusting decision) and the intensity (= amount of the risked advance payment) are higher, the more

(1) the conflict of interest between the trust-giver (VG) and the trust-taker (UN) is lower; (2) the flow of information between the VG and VN is more intensive; (3) the communication between the VG and the VN is smoother; (4) VG and VN interact with each other more often (repeated play); (5) the moral commitment (e.g. orientation to social norms) is more pronounced in both.

Trust in other disciplines

  • In developmental psychology , one speaks of basic trust .
  • The psychiatry knows pathologies that u. a. are characterized by an inability to trust and intimacy, such as B. Narcissistic Personality Disorder .
  • In organizational theory , trust is a mechanism that lowers control costs and other transaction costs. This also saves cognitive efforts and frees up resources. Among other things, trust creates intimate relationships, simplifies the exchange of information and decision-making, facilitates open communication and creates added value.
  • In political science above all as is trust in institutions designated public confidence in the ability of institutions , control of resources, actions and events exercise in terms of population, important. A tyranny - according to Aristotle - only lasts if the distrust between the inhabitants is preserved. For Fichte , the state is built on general distrust.
  • The Peace Research sees trust as a necessary factor for the sustainable overcome the security dilemma and for the establishment of long-term, diffuse reciprocal forms of cooperation.
  • In administrative science, possibilities of building or expanding trust based on ethic clats and corruption cases are discussed ( administrative ethics ).
  • In (public and private) law , “trust” is treated as a legal asset worthy of protection.
  • Negotiations between opponents can often be more successful if they are moderated by a person of mutual trust ( mediation ).


In many religions, the concept of the existing trust in one God , the Providence (eg in. Islam ), in personalized ( Fortuna , good fairy - cf. Lat .: fatua ) or impersonal higher powers ( fate ).

See also


  • Michaela I. Abdelhamid: The economization of trust. A Critique of Current Concepts of Trust. Transcript, Bielefeld 2018, ISBN 978-3-8376-4205-6 .
  • Reinhard Bachmann, Akbar Zaheer (Ed.): Handbook of Trust Research. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham 2006. ISBN 978-1-84376-754-1
  • Josette Baer, Wolfgang Rother (ed.): Trust . Schwabe, Basel 2015, ISBN 978-3-7965-3451-5 .
  • Douglas Creed, Raymond Miles : Trust in organizations: A conceptual framework linking organizational forms, managerial philosophies, and the opportunity cost of control , in: Trust in Organizations, ed. Roderick Kramer, Tom Tyler, Thousand Oaks 1996, pp. 16-38
  • Olaf Geramanis: Trust - The discovery of a social resource . Hirzel, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 978-3-7776-1174-7 .
  • Martin Hartmann , together with Claus Offe : Trust: the basis of social cohesion . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-593-36735-1 .
  • Martin Hartmann: The practice of trust . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 3-518-29594-2 .
  • Niklas Luhmann : Trust: a mechanism for reducing social complexity . 4th edition. Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-8252-2185-7 .
  • Barbara A. Misztal: Trust in modern societies: The search for the bases of social order . Polity, Cambridge 1996, ISBN 978-0745616346 .
  • Marcus Wiens: Trust in Economic Theory. A microfounded and behavioral analysis . Lit, Münster 2013, ISBN 978-3-643-11974-2 .

Web links

Wiktionary: distrust  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Trust  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Trust  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. According to Worchel 1979, quoted in Roy J. Lewicki / Barbara Benedict Bunker, Developing and Maintaining Trust in Work Relationships (1995), in:, accessed July 22, 2013
  2. Michael Koller: Interpersonal Trust. Pp. 13–26 In: Martin KW Schweer (Ed.): Psychology Interpersonalalen Trust VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 1997, ISBN 978-3-5311-3033-0
  3. ^ Keyword trust , in: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy, Vol. 11, Basel 2001, Sp. 986
  4. ^ Osterloh, M., Weibel, A. (2006), investment trust. Processes of developing trust in organizations, Gabler: Wiesbaden.
  5. ^ Margit Osterloh: Investment trust: processes of trust development in organizations . ISBN 978-3-8349-9067-9 , pp. 49- .. .
  6. David Kelley, Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence , The Objectivist Center 2002, ISBN 978-1577240662
  7. ^ Georg Simmel, Sociology (1908). Complete edition, ed. von O. Rammstedt, Vol. 11, 1992, p. 393.
  8. ^ Matthias Groß : Experimental ignorance . Bielefeld: transcript, 2014, pp. 63–64.
  9. Simmel 1992, p. 394.
  10. Niklas Luhmann, Trust: A Mechanism for the Reduction of Social Complexity , 1968, pp. 10, 13
  11. ^ Christian Scholz, Virtual Teams with a Darwiportunist tendency: The Dorothy Effect , Organizational Development , Vol. 20 (4/2001), pp. 20-29
  12. and Accessed July 20, 2013
  13. ^ Paul WL Vlaar, Frans AJ Van den Bosch, Henk W. Volberda, On the Evolution of Trust, Distrust, and Formal Coordination and Control in Interorganizational Relationships , Group & Organization Management 2007 32: 407 doi : 10.1177 / 1059601106294215 .
  14. Marcus Wiens, Trust in Economic Theory. A microfounded and behavioral analysis , Chapter 3, Münster, LIT-Verlag.
  15. Marcus Wiens, Trust in Economic Theory. A microfounded and behavioral analysis , Chapter 4 + 5, Münster, LIT-Verlag.
  16. Peter Eberl, Trust and Control. The problematic relationship between business administration and trust , in: H. Möller (ed.): Trust in Organizations. Risky advance payment or hopeful expectation ?, Wiesbaden, pp. 93–110
  17. Bill McEvily, Vincenzo Perrone, Akbar Zaheer, Trust as an Organizing Principle , Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-3890
  18. ^ Keyword trust , in: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy, Vol. 11, Basel 2001, Sp. 986 f.
  19. Philipp Brugger, Andreas Hasenclever, Lukas Kasten, trust pays off. On the subject and potential of a neglected concept in international relations , Journal for International Relations, 20th year (2013), issue 2, pp. 65-104