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Home arrow Engineering arrow Measuring Electronic Word-of-Mouth Effectiveness: Developing and Applying the eWOM Trust Scale

Trust in Intimate Personal Relationships

Larzerle and Huston (1980) contend that trust is a behavioural intention (or motivation) that reflects the dependence on a partner. By building on previous literature, Larzelere and Huston (1980) advance the Dyadic trust scale (DTS), which strives for a better understanding and measurement of the degree of interpersonal trust in close relationships. The authors make a key contribution of the recognization of trust as the key to the functioning and continuance of relationships, including marriages and families but also an element in romantic relationships (Regan & Berscheid, 1999). In their work, trust is conceptualized as a strong belief of the truster in certain personal attributes of the partner. The scholars conclude that trust can be established on the basis of two different characteristics of the trustee, namely (i) the partner’s benevolence and (ii) his/her perceived honesty. Benevolence refers to the truster’s belief that the trustee has a genuine interest in the other’s welfare. It further targets the evaluation of the extent to which the other believes that the partner is motivated because of self-interest or cooperation. Benevolence is deeply related to reciprocal altruism and therefore mostly determined by a social emotion or feelings towards the interaction partner. The emotion-in-relationships model - stating that close relationships typically elicit strong emotions (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011) - basically explains the proper inclusion of this affective trust element. Honesty, in contrast, is described as the extent to which the truster can believe that the interaction partner’s statements reflect his/her real future intentions or the reality in general. In reference to the importance of these two dimensions, Larzelere and Huston (1980, p. 596) define interpersonal trust as dyadic by proposing that “trust exists to the extent that a person believes another person (or persons) to be benevolent and honest”. The scholars recognize that benevolence and honesty are conceptually distinct. However, these two elements of trust are so intervened in personal relationships, especially when these relationships are intimate in nature, that they are operationally inseparable (e.g., if a partner’s honesty is questioned this may lead to questioning his/her benevolence, and vice versa). So, it is very unlikely that you perceive a person to be very altruistic towards you, but you deem the trustee dishonest at the same time. They contend that trust is a behavioural intention, which reflects the dependence on a partner. This view parallels other approaches typically surfacing in other disciplines. Larzerle and Huston (1980) make a distinction between dyadic trust and generalized trust. While the former refers to the judgment of an individual about the benevolence and honesty of a significant other, in contrast the latter refers to a person’s belief about the character of people in the aggregate (society). Therefore, generalized trust represents the understanding of trust in the eyes of personality psychologists as a stable trait (e.g., Rotter, 1967). This approach acknowledges that different kinds of trust exist which vary in their context and resistance to change. Larzerle and Huston’s (1980) DTS measure is composed of eight Likert-format items to measure the two dimensions of trust in close relationships. Among the final scale, items such as “my partner is primarily interested in his (her) own welfare” and also the item “my partner is perfectly honest and truthful with me” can be found.

Larzerle and Huston’s (1980) as well as Johnson-George and Swap (1982) recognize the importance of a multitude of situational factors and contend that trust is both target and context (domain) specific. For example, we may trust auto mechanics with our cars, but we probably would not trust them with regard to investment advice. When somebody asks you “do you trust this person?” it is reasonable to respond with the question “for doing what?”. Additionally, these authors agree that their conceptualizations of interpersonal trust reflect assumptions about the trustee and these inferences seem to be manifold. Therefore, they further advance the view of trust as a multi-dimensional or complex construct, where the truster’s judgments on certain characteristics give him/her reason to trust/distrust the interaction partner. The judgments which have to be made vary according to different authors. Johnson-George and Swap (1982), for example, describe that interpersonal trust is established when the trustee is expected to be reliable. According to them, in addition, the truster has to perceive a favourable attitude (i.e., emotional trust) towards him/her/it. The authors define reliability as the extent to which one believes a trustee will keep his/her promises and commitments. On the other hand, what is often called emotional trust corresponds to one’s confidence in the relationship. If a person has high emotional trust, he/she is confident that he/she is free from criticism and embarrassment from the trustee. The person feels emotionally attached. Johnson-George and Swap (1982) introduce two trust scales that aim to measure trust in meaningful interpersonal relationships, which are labelled as the Specific interpersonal trust scales (SITS). The authors propose two different trust scales because their research showed that men and women tend to evaluate trusting relationships differently.

Rempel, Holmes and Zanna (1985) make a distinction of three main dimensions of trust: predictability, dependability, and faith. Predictability refers to the consistency and desirability of previously shown behaviours. More specifically, the predictability of a partner’s behaviour is influenced by the amount of past experience in the social interaction, as well as the degree to which consistent and stable behaviours were typically shown. A totally predictable trustee would give the truster the opportunity to completely anticipate his/her future behaviours. The element of dependability has some connection with the concept of stable motives that influence the referent’s behaviour. In fact, dependability refers to the sum of a trustee’s performed actions that provide some insight into the extent to which a referent can be trusted in times to come. As such, dependability refers to dispositional attributions of the partner’s reliability. Faith is understood as an emotional security of the partner, which makes individuals feel that their partner will be responsive towards them in the future. This enables them to go beyond the available evidence. It reflects the referent’s underlying motives and intentions that represent the foundation of trust in a social interaction which typically arises after a longer period of time. Such an evaluation needs an introspection of the trustee’s personality and cannot be sometimes explained out of good reason. Rempel, Holmes and Zanna (1985) recognize that humans require varying amounts of time and emotional investment in order to develop perceptions of predictability, dependability, and faith in relationships. Therefore, in contrast to other scholars such as Barber (1983), the authors emphasize the dynamic aspect of trust as their model, implying that trust is developmental with hierarchical stages. At the beginning of a relationship, predictability constitutes the basis of trust. In the course of the interaction, trust develops gradually via dependability, and finally resulting in pure faith. For the researchers, the elements of trust are not mutually exclusive. Rather they conclude that the relative importance of one element affects the quality of the relationship in a specific stage. For instance, in an early form of a relationship, predictability and dependability would explain interpersonal trust better, whereas in mature relationships, faith may be the dominant element of trust.

While the relationships in online review communities cannot be best described as closely-knit relationships, the ideas presented above foster the insight that interpersonal trust has to be assessed in terms of multiple characteristics of the interaction partners and that, in this specific kind of relationship, specific kinds of trustee characteristics are more important than others. However, as it is a social interaction, the spectrum can be very broad.

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