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

Trust Elements: Cognitive, Affective and Conative Trust Components

The second framework is based on works in the field of attitude and trust research that emphasize that trust is best described by cognitive (C), affective (A), and behavioural (B) mental structures (e.g., Lewis & Weigert, 1985a, b): the CAB, or three-component model (Egaly & Chaiken, 1993; Hogg & Cooper, 2003; Zanna & Rempel, 1988). It seems that a reasonable amount of trust contributions follow the classic, tripartite view of attitude (Hilgard, 1980; Rosenberg & Hovland, 1960) by treating trust as a synonym of attitude or - at least an attitude-like - multi-component mental construct. Followers of the CAB model define attitude as “a relatively enduring organisation of believes [i.e., cognitive components], feelings [i.e., affective components] and behavioural tendencies [i.e., intentional components] towards socially significant objects, groups, events or symbols” (Hogg & Vaughan, 2011, p. 148). This definition is favoured by various researchers (Himmelfarb & Eagly, 1974; Krech, Crutchfield & Ballachey, 1962; Ostrom, 1968). Accordingly, it is here assumed that trust as an attitude-like construct manifests itself in consistent thoughts (beliefs, judgments, knowledge: E.g., “I believe the trustee is honest.”), emotions (affect, feelings, mood: E.g., “I have a positive feeling towards the trustee.”), and behavioural intentions (motivations: E.g., “I am willing to rely on the trustee.”) as distinct elements of trust (Egaly & Chaiken, 1998).

A number of authors suggest that trust involves both cognition which is triggered by rational thoughts or judgments about the trust object, and emotions towards the trust object (Granovetter, 1985; Lewis & Weigert, 1985; McAllister, 1995). So the cognitive component includes cognitive-based beliefs, thoughts and attributes associated with the trust object. In the case where the formation of trust in a relationship has predominantly cognitive content, it is called “cognitive trust”, whereas one that has a predominant emotional content is denominated “affective (or emotional) trust” (Becerra, 2006).


Cognition can include attitudes such as confidence. For instance, cognitive trust is sometimes defined as a person’s confidence in relying on an exchange partner (Moorman et al., 1992; Rempel et al., 1985). But cognitive trust is also often equated with trusting beliefs. Here, it is theorized that trust is typically grounded on rational expectations about the behaviour of the object of trust (McKnight et al., 1998). Those expectations are formed by beliefs about the characteristics of the object of trust as being beneficial to the truster (McAllister 1995; McKnight et al. 2002a). In line with this description, trust theory describes cognitive trust as “a truster’s rational choice that is motivated by a conscious calculation of advantages” (Komiak & Benbasat, 2006). Johnson and Grayson (2005) claim that cognitive trust is based on the truster’s knowledge that allows him/her to make predications with a certain degree of confidence about the likelihood that the interaction partner will live up to his/her obligations. This characteristic is what Rempel et al. (1985) call “predictability” and Johnson-Geoge and Swap (1982) refer to as “reliableness”. Such knowledge may arise from previous interactions or experience, but can also be attributed to reported reputation reflecting the trustee’s earlier behaviours with others or initial assumptions. Here it has to be stated that, even though trust may be influenced by a person’s knowledge, only incomplete knowledge is necessary for trust to become operational. If a person has complete knowledge about the interaction partner’s future behaviour, risk is eliminated and trust is redundant (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982).

Otherwise it seems intuitively appealing that besides rational thinking, feelings, emotions and/or affect influence trusting relationships (e.g., Lewis & Weigert, 1985a, 1985b), as most people who had a strong distrust for someone or something would agree that such relationships also involve emotions. Emotions can be best described as mental responses that arise in response to appraisals regarding something of relevance to one’s well-being (Bagozzi & Dholakia, 1999). As such, emotions can be seen as indicators for the presence and quality of trust within a relationship (Jones & George, 1998). Affective trust is a person’s confidence in an interaction partner on the basis of feelings that can be attributed to perceptions of care and deep concern the interaction partner shows (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982; Rempel et al., 1985). At its heart, affective trust is the reliance on a partner based on emotions. Various authors have followed this view by defining affective trust as an emotional bond between two parties (e.g., McAllister, 1995; Johnson-George &0 Swap, 1982; Lewis & Weigert, 1985a, 1985b); explicitly, Lewis and Weigert (1985a) characterized the construct as “an emotional bond among all those who participate in the relationship” (p. 971). As these emotional bonds deepen, trust in an interaction partner may venture beyond what is defensible by available knowledge. The presence of affective trust in a relationship makes it less vulnerable to objective risk assessments which lie in the focus of economic theorists. Emotional bonds between truster and trustee both enable the making of emotional investments in order to express genuine care and concerns towards each other, and the showing of confidence in the intrinsic value of the reciprocal relationships (McAllister, 1995). Rempel et al. (1985) make the statement that affective trust is closely tied to the opinion that a partner’s behaviours are intrinsically motivated. In a similar vein, Johnson-George and Swap (1982) describe this psychological state as a trustee’s benevolence towards the truster. Later, the construct of benevolence of McKnight and his colleagues (2002a) has been classified as one of the three dimensions of cognitive trust. However, in its essence, affective trust develops from one’s basic social instincts, intuition, or feelings concerning whether an individual, a group of people, or thing is trustworthy (Morrow, Hansen & Pearson, 2004).

According to literature, the type of relationship determines the relative importance of cognitive and affective trust (e.g., Rosseau et al., 1998). For example, Sheppard and Sherman (1998) state that cognitive trust is the single necessity for economic exchanges. Similarly, Williamson (1993) emphasizes the importance of cognitive trust by suggesting that the trust between firms can be best described as “calculative trust”; however, the author further states that in consumer transactions, a “leap of faith” is a permanent feature. Therefore, trust seems to be multi-faceted with rational and affective components (Rosenbaum, 2003), besides trusting intentions. Or, to put it another way, it has “cognitive, affective, or behavioural dimensions with the strength of the particular dimension being determined by the type of relationship involved between the truster and the trustee” (Jarvenpaa & Tractinsky, 1999, p. 36). The latter view can be attributed to a considerable amount of literature that indicates that affective processes and cognitive beliefs as well as attitudes along with the behavioural intention of trust must be present for trust to exist (e.g., Johnson & Grayson, 2005). This thesis adopts this opinion.

Table 2 summarizes and classifies the key trust-related concepts that regularly surfaced in prior research on trust. Specifically, the matrix adapts the original idea of Kim and Tadisina (2007) and categorizes the identified concepts in line with the frameworks of Fishbein and Ajzen (1975), as well as Lewis and Weigert (1985a, b). For example, the trust ingredient of ability/competence is positioned in the cognitive-belief cell as the construct captures the truster’s belief or rational judgment that the trustee possesses the necessary skills to perform a specific task for the truster and this belief is driven by a rational judgment. The following sections discuss selected key ingredients of trust in greater detail and classifies them further.

Trusting Beliefs

Trusting Attitudes

Trusting Intentions


e.g., belief in a person’s ability and competence; predictability and openness; integrity; honesty; reliability; dependability

e.g., confidence; reliance; expectancy; expectations; confident expectations



e.g., belief in a person’s benevolence and goodwill

e.g., affection; affect; likeability





e.g., willingness; vulnerability; decision to cooperate; willingness to rely on; willingness to be vulnerable; intention to accept vulnerability

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