Dartmouth College has released the findings on a study they did that helps explain the motivation that leads a person to feel greater trust, especially when making everyday financial and other decisions. The study was conducted by brain researcher D. S. Fareri, and his collaborators L. J. Chang, and M. R. Delgado, and the findings appear in The Journal of Neuroscience.
According to the researchers, trust is a critical element of collaboration—and collaboration is essential to interpersonal relationships, and the need to belong and be accepted and valued. What they wanted to know is what motivates someone to be more trusting, after all risk is involved and this is something humans usually avoid.
Study participants were told they were playing an economic investment game with a close friend, a stranger or a slot machine. They were actually playing with an algorithm that reciprocated trust 50% of the time. The model they designed could predict each player’s decision for a new round based on their previous experience in the game.
Study participants found positive interactions that they believed were with friends to be more rewarding than with someone they didn’t know or with a machine. Apparently the social value that participants got from believing this was a friend was a stronger motivation than when the payoff was only financial. Neuroimaging was able to show specific brain signals that correlated with social value signals when participants made their decisions.
Simply stated, the players got a greater social reward when they were told their friend was the one who reciprocated and not one of the other two players. This reward signal led them to trust the friend more than the other players who didn’t give them this reward signal.
This research could be very helpful in understanding how people make every day financial decisions. This certainly leads us to believe it is not as cut and dried as we have always believed and could lead to new approaches to helping people make better decisions by understanding what really motivates them to make those decisions. Finding ways to use that motivation could be key if we factor in how relationships can alter our perceptions about the value of any decision we might make.