Trust Types: Beliefs, Attitudes, and Behavioural Intentions

The first framework emphasizes the various mental constructs which together represent what can be named trust. In line with interdisciplinary literature, it appears that trust can be best described as something that is regularly called “attitude”. A paradigm that enables a meaningful insight and parallels various conceptualizations of trust is provided by the school of social psychology. More specifically, Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) propose a notable framework that makes a clear separation of attitudes, beliefs, and intended behaviour that together reside in the mind of a person. The authors have integrated this classification of mental constructs in a series of models, most notably the theory of reasoned action (TRA) (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) and the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1988; Ajzen & Madden, 1986). In general, these models postulate that behavioural intention is the direct antecedent of actual behaviour. Behavioural intention is defined as the individual’s likelihood of engaging in the behaviour of interest and is itself a function of attitudes and beliefs (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Pookulangara, Hawley & Xiao, 2011). The TRA and TPB both assert that attitudes mediate between beliefs and intentions, although beliefs may similarly have a direct impact on intention. In their original idea, Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) emphasized that these three elements can be used to conceptualize a construct as they note: “concepts like attraction, value, sentiment, valence, and utility all seem to be subsumed under the category of attitude; opinion, knowledge, information, stereotype, etc. may all be viewed as beliefs held by an individual; brand image, prejudice, and morale may relate to all three categories” (p. 13). The most insightful contribution of Ajzen and Fishbein is the categorization of mental constructs that others have summarized or simplified as “attitude”. By following this insight, various trust studies have proposed that trust is the conglomerate of all three of them, namely trusting beliefs, trusting attitudes, and trusting intention (e.g., Kim & Tadisina, 2007). Other researchers prefer a more parsimonious approach by recognizing that at least two dimensions (i.e., trusting beliefs and trusting intentions) adequately capture the construct’s nature (Mayer et al., 1995; McKnight et al., 1998). Most of the studies that make such a distinction originate in investigations of interpersonal interactions, such as those happening within a firm. In contrast to this view of trust, early studies which emphasize ongoing economic transactions rarely make such a distinction (e.g., Doney & Cannon, 1997; Schurr & Ozanne, 1995). Gefen (2003a) argues that this can be attributed to the facts that trust in economic exchange relationships “is an extension, rather than direct implementation of the original definition of interpersonal trust”. Further, in contrast to the role of interpersonal trust as an instrument to foster solid social relationships, trust in economic relationships serves as a mechanism to avoid opportunistic behaviour. Nevertheless, there is a growing recognition among marketing researchers concerning the relevance of such a distinction between the elements of trust; this is especially true in the context of online trust (e.g., McKnight & Chervany, 2002; McKnight et al., 2002a; 2002b; Moorman et al., 1992; Sirdeshmukh et al., 2002). In addition, as the type of relationship investigated in this research can be regarded as being economical only in the broader sense (i.e., the focus of investigation is in fact the relationship among customers and is therefore social in nature), the application of the above-mentioned framework appears appealing. Based on this research and particularly drawing on the work of Mayer et al. (1995), McKnight et al. (2002a) and Kim and Tadisina (2007), this thesis adopts their insights and assumes that the concept of trust can be distilled down to the three major elements, namely (1) trusting beliefs, (2) trusting attitudes, and (3) trusting intention (i.e., the trust triangle). Additionally, such a conceptualization relies on the separation between trust and actual behaviour (e.g., risk taking). This thesis argues for equal rights of the three “types of trust” as understood in the three-component view of attitude (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011). All three components have to exist in order to regard the trust concept as a kind of generalized attitude. It refrains from regarding beliefs as direct antecedents of behaviour intentions - but intertwined concepts expressing a consistent orientation towards the trust object. Nevertheless the thesis agrees with TRA/TPB that attitudes (including intent) are antecedents of behaviour (e.g., information adoption).

In part, trust essentially means that a person (the truster), based on some kind ofjudgment, finds the object of trust as able and also willing to act in the best interest of the truster. Without this judgment, the belief is nothing more than pure “faith”, as in God, or what is often called “naivete” (Fournier, 1998). The simple mental process of evaluating the critical trustee’s characteristics and actions is defined as trusting beliefs (Becerra & Korgaonkar, 2011). Mayer et al. (1995) focus on the same elements by naming them “factors of trust”.

These beliefs are cognitive judgments or evaluations of the trustee or trust object that result from attribution processes made by the truster (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). Most authors - at least in the field of marketing - rely upon a belief-based conceptualization of trust (Bhttner & Goritz, 2008), where the conglomerate of these beliefs is often referred to as trustworthiness (e.g., Mayer et al., 1995). For example McKnight et al. (2002, p. 337) describe trustworthiness as “a confident truster perception that the trustee has the attributes that are beneficial to the truster”. In line with support in literature, this thesis proposes that trustworthiness is not a synonym for trust. In fact, it is only a factual component of the concept. Generally, this distinction is not always made clear (Blois, 1999). However, Corritore et al. (2003) state that trust is a personal act of the truster. Whether the trust is well placed or not only emanates from the truster and has nothing to do with the trustee. However, trustworthiness on the other hand is a mental representation of certain characteristics of someone or something that can be called the object of trust. Although trustworthiness and trust are distinct, there is a logical and strong relationship between them (Solomon & Flores, 2001), as trustworthiness regularly instils trust or trust is mirrored in perceptions of trustworthiness. This can be illustrated by the following statements:

“I trust in [an object] because it exhibits characteristics that signal its trustworthiness to me” or “I trust an object, therefore I attribute characteristics of trustworthiness to it”. While the first statement is probably more likely for first time interactions (initial trust) or situation-specific trust (situational trust), the latter mirrors an individual’s general, stable orientation towards the trust object (generalized trust).

Literature has widely recognized the trust-trustworthiness distinction. For example, for Good (1988), trust is based on expectations of how another person will behave. These expectations are themselves based on that person’s current and earlier implicit and explicit claims. Sheppard and Sherman (1998) have also recognized that trust results to some degree from people’s capacity to assess the trustworthiness of their relationship partners. For instance, if an individual is unsure whether to trust another person met for the very first time, the individual strives to “construct” initial trust on the basis of (rational) judgments on the trustee’s characteristics. Hence, trustworthiness (or trusting beliefs) forms here the basis for trust (Serva, Benamati & Fuller, 2005). Mayer et al. (1995, p. 717) similarly noted that trusting beliefs are “not trust per se”, but they “help build the foundation for the development of [initial/situational] trust”. McKnight et al. (1998) and later McKnight and Chervany (2001) also use (multiple) trusting beliefs as part of their broader trust typology. It has to be noted that in many conditions, trust is the result of a calculative (and emotional) process, as individuals need to derive their level of reliance from an evaluation of the characteristics of the trustee. The above literature describes such cases and, hence, refers to the first statement. However, when individuals have already made up their mind due to a number of earlier interactions or experiences - hence, they already possess a stable attitude towards the trust object due a social learning process - the causality is reversed. Here, trust becomes part of the personality. Trusting beliefs (like trusting attitudes and intentions) are here theorized to be the consequence of an underlying trust construct forming a uniform mental dispositon (see Chapter 3 for a discussion in greater detail).

Trusting attitude is another element of trust. Attitude is sometimes described as the predisposition of the individual to evaluate some symbol or object or aspect of this world in a favourable or unfavourable manner (Katz, 1960). Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) propose an alternative definition, as they define attitude as “a state of preparedness or readiness for attention or action”. Dictionary definitions of attitude also stress this insight, as attitude is described as “a mental position with regard to a fact or state, or an organismic state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way to a stimulus” (Mish, 1993). Trusting attitudes include (i) the affect for the trust object (e.g., reviews) (Thurstone, 1931) and (ii) a specific state of mental readiness. Specifically, trusting attitudes are a person’s determined mental status which may lead a person’s mental orientation until something shatters the status (Kim & Tadisina, 2007). In reference to Eagle and Chaiken (1998), trusting attitudes are defined as a psychological tendency of the truster which is expressed by judging a particular trust object with some degree of favour or disfavour. This thesis holds that individuals can potentially have diverse forms of trusting attitudes. Their existence, though, is finally caused by the specific trust-domain. For instance, the attitudes of affinity or commitment may potentially be a force of trust in interpersonal (and especially intimate relationships (e.g., marriages)). But they are of no importance in trust in things such as pencils.

The third element of trust is trusting intention. It is a person’s subjective probability that he/she will perform the behaviour in question (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975). Hence, it is a person’s active mental status that potentially results in a subsequent actual behaviour (Kim & Tadisina, 2007). What distinguishes behavioural intention from trusting intentions is that the latter involves a recognizable amount of risk (Moorman et al., 1992). Consumers can face a variety of risks - such as functional, financial, social, and psychological risk (Dowling, 1986; Jacoby & Kaplan, 1972; Stone & Gronhaug, 1993). Therefore, one can generally define trusting intentions as the willingness to make oneself vulnerable to another entity in the presence of different forms of risk (Kim, Ferrin, Cooper & Dirks, 2004).

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