The Human Psyche and Trust
Our guest in this 63rd episode of the TrustTalk podcast is David Dunning, a social psychology professor at the University of Michigan and best known for the “Dunning -Kruger effect”, talks in this new episode of the TrustTalk podcast about trust being a rational decision in an irrational world. He discusses the trust game used in economics, psychology, and sociology to test the extent to which people trust others. In the game, participants give money to an anonymous stranger and expect their trust to be honored. The experiment found that people are often more trustworthy than we would imagine, with the real percentage of people who give the money back being 80% or higher, which is higher than what participants expected.
Dunning explains that people’s behavior in the trust game is not solely driven by the possibility of losing money. Instead, people are more concerned about the message their behavior sends and are emotionally involved in the situation. He suggests that personal judgments based on trust are important in even the most technical and national decisions, as seen in the failed negotiation between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986.
Dunning also discusses how the Dunning-Kruger effect played out during the COVID-19 pandemic, with people being overconfident and making missteps due to their lack of knowledge. He suggests that individuals and organizations can become more aware of their biases and misbeliefs by designating a devil’s advocate to pick holes in their strategies, projecting themselves into the future to imagine potential disasters, and benchmarking their performance against other organizations. Additionally, individuals should be wary of their own biases and seek out expert opinions to improve their decision-making abilities.
Books by David Dunning
Ballantyne, N., & Dunning, D. (2022). Reason, bias, and inquiry: The crossroads of epistemology and psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dunning, D. (Ed.) (2010). Social motivation. New York: Psychology Press.
Alicke, M., Dunning, D., & Krueger, J. (Eds.) (2005). The self and social judgment. New York: Psychology Press.
Dunning, D. (2005). Self-insight: Roadblocks and detours on the path to knowing thyself. New York: Psychology Press.
Dunning, D., Heath, C., & Suls, J. (2004). Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 71-106.
About his “Self and Social Insight Lab”
(…) my lab (that conducts research on the topics that I’m interested in or have fallen into. And the basic question we ask is people’s beliefs about the world, how well do they really match up with the world? Do people have an adequate conception of human nature? And more often than not, do people have an adequate conception of their own nature? Are people good psychologists when it comes to understanding themselves and understanding other people? Those are the types of topics we tend to work on.
About the role of psychology in researching trust
I think the home for trust is everywhere because it infuses every single aspect of life that we live in, both as individuals and as a society. So it has a home in political science, has a home in economics, and it certainly should have more of a home in psychology. It’s rather odd that it isn’t more of a focus in psychology, given that if you go to other fields like economics, trust doesn’t work the way it should. And some fields from their equations would say that trust shouldn’t work at all. Yet it does. And that seems to be more properly, the home of psychology, where we try to figure out, okay, if it’s not, what’s going on over there, what is it going on in the human psyche that’s allowing people to trust.
Is Trust a “Fool’s Errand”?
it is a little bit of a paradox, which is trust is the rational decision if the world is irrational. And what do I mean by that? In economics, if you’re a complete rational actor interested in your own self-interest, you should never be trusted. Because as soon as someone trusts you, you have often no reason to honor their trust. So you can basically act in your own self-interest and punish them, take the money, take the time, take whatever that you want to take. So in a rational world, trust would be irrational, but it does turn out, luckily for us, that people are irrational. People trust other people when really, according to the economics of the rational analysis, they shouldn’t. And more confounding people prove to be trustworthy, even though they have no reason to honor our trust, really. And it’s this irrational, people trusting and people honoring trust that allows trust to be the rational decision.
About the classic trust game
you’re given €5 and you’re given a choice: you can either keep the €5 or you can give it to some stranger that you’ll never know, they’ll never know you, this is completely anonymous. And you may ask, why would you do that? Well, what the experimenter will do is if you give the $5 and by the way, we can arrange it so the experimenter never really knows what you’re doing, this is completely anonymous, if you give the $5, to this complete stranger, the experimenter will inflate it to $20. I give the second person their own choice and that own choice is they can keep the 20, thank you very much, or they can give you $10 back. So if you trust the other person, you have a chance to double your money, get it going from $5 to $10, but if the other person decides to keep the money, you’re out, so to speak, you’re betrayed. And the question we ask is how much do people expect their trust to be honored? And also, do they ultimately make the decision to give up the $5 to trust the other person?
About the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”
if you take a look at COVID, what you found were a lot of people doing what we call “epistemic trespassing”, that is, there’s an expert field, it’s going to get things wrong, but it has the best chance of getting things right. But these people didn’t know what they didn’t know, and they knew something like math or a little evolutionary biology and they thought, well, I can dream up an answer to what’s going to happen with COVI, and they went and publicly made that available to everybody, even though they were not the experts, they were trespassing into the field that they really didn’t have any expertise in and misled a lot of people along the way.
Transcript of the interview
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