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Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Know it or not, you often decide whether or not to trust someone based on crazy reasons. How attractive someone is, whether they’re the same gender as you are, whether someone blushes, and the state of your ever-changing mood all affect whether you trust somebody.

In some situations you trust people more just because they have a beard:

You make up your mind about someone in 100 milliseconds.

Yeah, read it again: 100 milliseconds. What happens when you’re given additional time? You become more convinced you’re right:

And what quality do you value in a friend more than any other? You guessed it: trustworthiness.

What’s the reason most people cite for wanting to leave their job? Not trusting their employer.

And maybe you’re right to be wary. Most people do violate the trust of even close friends:

Research shows that in life-or-death situations, you can probably forget about all that better-angels-of-our-nature stuff. It’s pretty much every man for himself.
But is that the best way to live? Probably not if you want a long, enjoyable life.

People who give others the benefit of the doubt are both happier and healthier. In fact, high-trusters are actually better at lie detection:

Expecting others to be selfish can be a self-fulfliing prophecy:

And cynicism can lead to a downward spiral:

Think that people are poor because they trust too much and the wealthy get their money by duplicity? Actually, being skeptical of people’s motives isn’t the path to riches:

Clearly, on average, it’s better to trust too much than too little, even from a financial perspective.

Okay, but does this mean trust everyone? How do you pick?

You can tell Nobel Peace Prize winners from America’s Most Wanted at a rate much better than chance. More often than not for first impressions, you can trust your gut:

But how does this affect how you should handle relationships?

Oddly enough, nothing worked better than good ol’ tit-for-tat:

That old rule we all know turned out to be incredibly robust. All it required was imitating the other player’s last move. If they’re cooperative, you cooperate. If they screw you, you screw them back.

Robert Axelrod, who documented the findings in his book, The Evolution of Cooperation, explained what we can learn from the findings:

At least in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, “doing unto others as they do unto you” may not put you ahead, but with time it educates others that, all other things being equal, it’s clearly more profitable to work with you than not.


All things being equal, trust people or at least trust your gut. Early in ongoing relationships, consider tit-for-tat.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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