Elements of eWOM Trust

This thesis’ investigation into the nature of trust has spotted that a considerable broad string of literature exists that emphasizes that both affective processes or emotional bonds towards the object of trust and behavioural intentions, along with cognitive thoughts or rational expectations, have to be present in order to provide insight into the level of trust. In other words, trust is a matter of thoughts, feelings, and behavioural intentions (e.g., Clark & Payne, 1997; Cummings & Bromiley, 1996; Granovetter, 1985; Riegelsberger et al., 2003). Hence, based on these conceptualizations, this thesis proposes a multifaceted concept of trust that incorporates cognitive, emotional, and behavioural elements in its definition. This is also in accordance with the three-component view of attitude (Himmelfarb & Eagly, 1974; Krech et al., 1962). As shown in Chapter 2, Lewis and Weigert (1985) have introduced a framework of trust that provides the basis for categorization of the trust dimensions along these three underlying elements of trust. According to the scholars, trust may arise based on “a cognitive process which discriminates among persons and institutions that are trustworthy, distrusted, and unknown” (Lewis & Weigert 1985, p. 970). They further note that a truster can have “cognitive trust”, which is “good rational reasons why the object of trust merits trust” (Lewis & Weigert 1985, p. 972). Typically, the cognitive dimension deals with the truster’s rational evaluation of specific characteristics of the trustee, such as his/her/its integrity and honesty. Hence, in this research the first two trusting beliefs (ability/usefulness and integrity/honesty) represent in part the predominant cognitive base of eWOM trust. In literature, ability is commonly associated with a rational evaluation of the trustee’s competencies and skills. Integrity and reliability, on the other hand, are cognitive beliefs that reflect ethical traits and deal with the belief that the partner will keep to a given promise or will not lie.

Emotional trust in eWOM is based on the belief of benevolence, as well as feelings of affect (likeability). Benevolence is related to a party’s altruistic motives and the trustee’s goodwill towards the truster (Mayer et al., 1995). Even though some researchers state that the concept represents a kind of cognitive judgment, a great number of scholars stress that the construct is a predominant emotional or affect-based characteristic of the object of trust (Dunn, 2000; McAllister, 1995; Riegelsberger et al., 2003). In this thesis, benevolence is recognized as a basically cognitive belief which is triggered by emotions. Trusting consumers identify some kind of affection between them and reviewers, who are seen as wanting to do well to them. As discussed earlier, Lewis and Weigert (1985), amongst others, advance the view that likeability is another critical element of trust. Unlike benevolence, likeability represents “pure emotion or affect” without any cognitive involvement. The potential importance of these emotional elements can be deduced from literature, as it is commonly agreed that the type of relationship determines the basis of trust (Rosseau et al. 1998). In general, consumers use eWOM in order to make better purchasing decisions - that is, identify the best product. This purely economic goal which parallels the impersonal form of eWOM communication makes cognitive elements of trust more likely to be important. However, the social character of this interaction, the need to exchange with similar minded persons, the inherent dependence of the consumer on the reviewer community, and the potential perception of the consumer that information seeking is itself a source of pleasure (Mathwick & Rigdon, 2004; Mudambi & Schuff, 2010) make emotional trust elements likely to be also an integral part of the eWOM trusting stance.

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