Trust is one of the basic components of daily life. Whether it’s trusting a spouse to remain faithful or an employer to compensate you for the hours you worked or yourself to stick to that diet, being trustworthy and ascertaining the trustworthiness of others are imperatives.
In The Truth About Trust, David DeSteno, PhD, explores the importance of trust in determining success in life, love, and learning, etc.. while also exploring the mechanics for how we perceive trustworthiness. As it turns out, the image in popular imagination of the human lie detector who reads miniscule changes in facial expression is mostly Hollywood myth. Another insight is that while we are prone to using past behavior (also known as reputation) in our quest to determine the level of trustworthiness of another, this approach is often ineffective because “human behavior is quite variable” (pg. 16) meaning past behavior does not necessarily predict future behavior.
For the purposes of this review, I’d like to look at two findings the book reports on that are relevant to my readership. The first insight is on the dark side of the biological hormone Oxytocin and how that effects parenting in light of peer orientation. The second insight is on the importance of respect in creating trust in a learning environment.
1. Oxytocin is a bonding agent that the body produces. The hormone induces labor and creates a strong biological bond between mother and newborn baby. The hormone is produced in physical interactions like hugs and even handshakes. It’s no wonder then that it has been hailed as “love glue.” Bu it also has some downsides which have only recently been explored. While Oxytocin produces warm fuzzy feelings for how one responds to someone in the “in-group” [such as a family member or good friend], it can also increase feelings of envy, discriminatory prejudice and judgment, etc., of members of an “out-group.”
This is significant in light of the research of Dr. Neufeld. Firstly, in-group bonds between say middleschool friends can be quite intense but then too their harsh treatment of the new kid or the outsider can be equally intense. Oxytocin is involved both in the affections shown toward insiders and the hostility shown toward outsiders. Secondly, in Dr. Neufeld’s seminal work Hold On To Your Kids, he demonstrates that peer orientation can often result in a peer group replacing the attachment and loyalty of the bond to family (particularly parents but also siblings.) Again, Oxcytocin can work as two-edged sword, bonding kids to friends and pushing them away from parents. (Click here to read more about Dr. Neufeld on attachment.) Click here to access my series on parental engagement, an importance stabilizing force for mitigating concerns of peer orientation – or for more on attachment, click here and here.
2. On a more positive, but equally important note, The Truth About Trust presents research which empirically demonstrates that trust is essential for children to learn. One study, Young children’s selective trust in informants, authored by Paul L. Harris* and Kathleen H. Corriveau, found that preschoolers were able to choose between competing truth claims by selecting the source they found the more trustworthy. The two key takeaways were that preschoolers, with secure attachments, trusted primary caregivers over anyone, failing that, they trusted the source who was seen to be most like them (ie., culturally), and failing that, they trusted the source who had demonstrated the most reliability in the past.
The book also reports research which states that “Children actually remember information better – the same information – if they hear it from a trustworthy source as opposed to an untrustworthy source.” (pg. 74) Additionally (and significantly), students respond better to teachers they trust than teachers they merely like (be a mentor, not a friend.)
Trusting someone is inherently risky and yet without trust, our society would not be able to function. The Truth About Trust doesn’t offer any fail-safe formulas or gimmicky manipulation tricks. Instead, the book walks through the various systems, conscious and subconscious, within us that affect how we trust, whom we trust, and how we ourselves act in any given situation. The main takeaway though is that trust matters and that when it comes to learning, trust that flows out of a secure attachment is essential. This is good news: as parents, it means nature is on our side. We can trust ourselves as parents and as a result of our love, our children can trust us, which provides our children with the support system they need in order to grow and develop into lifelong learners.