Trust Is Trust, Online And Off

Recent Pew research that shows that those that use the web more, trust people more:

The typical Internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted,“ with regular Facebook users the most trusting of all. "A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other Internet users and more than three times as likely as non-Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.

Adam Pennenberg connects the dots between this and conventional, face-to-face trust bonding:

Adam Pennenberg, Digital Oxytocin: How Trust Keeps Facebook, Twitter Humming

[…] trust goes to the heart of our economic and social systems. Neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont College and author of the forthcoming book, The Moral Molecule: Vampire Economics and the New Science of Good and Evil, says that trust is the lubricant that makes economic transactions possible. […]

In his own research, Zak and a co-researcher found that nations with higher levels of trust (Sweden, Germany, the U.S.) have stronger economies than those on the other end of the spectrum (the Congo, Sudan, Colombia). "Where there is more trustworthiness, there is more prosperity,” Zak says. This trust also influences what we buy. A 2009 Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey study found that shoppers value the opinions of people they know the most, followed by online reviews written by strangers or in online communities.

There’s a good reason for this. We humans are hard-wired to commingle with one another offline and on-, and the web and its platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it more efficient than ever. That’s because virtual relationships can be as real as actual relationships. The truth is we’re all one step removed from reality, living life through the prism of our own minds. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found when they scanned the brains of fiction readers that they reacted as if they were actually living the events in the story.

Zak has traced much of our behavior to oxytocin, a single neuropeptide he’s dubbed “the moral molecule” because it appears to shape much of our better nature. Also referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is the same chemical that forges that unshakeable bond between nursing mothers and their babies. Women have 30% more of it than men, but men have plenty, too, and in a spate of experiments spanning a decade Zak has linked oxytocin to all manner of human behavior–from empathy to generosity to trust. And when we believe that someone trusts us, we trust them back, and this alters our behavior: It makes us more generous, for one. Ultimately, oxytocin is, Zak says, the “social glue” that adheres families, communities, and societies while simultaneously acting as an “economic lubricant” that enables us to engage in all sorts of transactions.

It turns out that oxytocin is not all sweetness and light: it is also associated with xenophobia and tribalism. Nonetheless, it is certainly at the root of our commitment to others, and our sense of trust, which arise from various sorts of friendly interactions, and these can happen just as well in general online as off, in general.

(Turns out there is a big surge in oxytocin after various sorts of intimate touching, both sexual and asexual. But that’s not the only pathway to intimacy.)

So, once again, our online relationships are as real as those formed offline, and the trust that accompanies them is too.

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