It is common that we trust those in power. We don’t think twice before putting important aspects of our lives into the hands of doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, and more. Why do we trust so easily? What tells us that they have good intentions, that they aren’t using their power position to take advantage of us? As individuals designed to fight for survival, why do we place our well-being in the hands of others so freely? Findings show that we trust people in power positions to protect ourselves. We naturally protect our self-esteem by trusting powerful people to seem less dependent. This contradicts a common psychological idea: the rational actor theory. The rational actor theory states that people in higher power positions are less trustworthy because they have many partners to choose from. If they disappoint someone, it’s not an issue because they have many other opportunities for relationships. As a result, individuals with less power do not trust those in power. The rational actor theory concludes that people are unlikely to trust powerful people, but there is little evidence that this is actually the case.
Many sources and studies have proven this theory to be wrong, including those listed below. In fact, people with less power are far more likely to trust those with more power. This willingness to place trust in others, even those who might be strangers, is all to make the individual with less power feel better about themselves. They fear appearing dependent, and thus compensate by trusting those who apparently know better than them. For example, and individual in need of medical attention might go to the hospital. It’s clear that this individual knows little about medicine, especially compared to a doctor who’s dedicated their life to this field. To avoid looking ignorant or too needy, the patient willingly trusts in the doctor’s expertise. They accept medications, treatments, and anything else to show that they understand the doctor’s power and knowledge. Doing so avoids conflict and ultimately protects the patient’s self-esteem. But is there a guarantee that the doctor acted in the patient’s best interest?
Reimann, Martin, and Oliver Schilke. “How Power Shapes Trust.” Greater Good, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_power_shapes_trust
Parker-Stanford, Clifton B. “People with Less Power Tend to Be More Trusting.” Futurity, 23 Nov. 2015, www.futurity.org/power-trust-1055402-2/
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