Why do we trust the institutions that make up our society’s foundation? Government leaders, medical professionals, educators, and other leaders that we look to for guidance could be lying to us for all we know. Why don’t we naturally question them? Shouldn’t our goal of survival lead us to initially doubt these people, rather than allowing us to trust them in the blink of an eye? A trusted doctor can use their medical knowledge to kill innocent people. A respected politician can use their power to destroy our government and the way it affects the lives of innocent citizens. To dissect this idea, I used EBSCO Databases to research the psychology behind institutional trust
As part of my research, I examined trust in government based on various surveys conducted in the United States. In April of 2018, Chanita Intawan and Stephen P. Nicholson published results from their studies on trust in politicians and our government. They found that while many mindsets exist concerning the truthfulness of the government, nearly everyone has a gut-level trust towards it. The average individual exhibits a trusting orientation towards government. When considering the rest of this study, it is clear that despite information verifying the disreputable nature of government, citizens maintain this trusting orientation. But why? How can one continue to believe that the government will benefit them, especially with hard evidence that it’s doing just the opposite? This circles back to the idea of natural trust in those holding positions of power. This can be incredibly dangerous, but our brains naturally trust the powerful as a mode of protection. When someone claims to have more knowledge than us, and can “prove it” by holding a position of power, we look to them for guidance. It’s all in self-interest: we guard our self-esteem by accepting the help of powerful individuals. We avoid appearing uneducated or inferior to others as a survival tool, and to do so, we trust those in positions of power.
However, this idea may not always be the case. Perhaps as individuals, we don’t always trust government leaders or medical professionals. However, because we are surrounded by a society programmed to trust these leaders, we do as well. This concept is known as herd mentality, where the people or system around you heavily influence your thinking. Trust may be biologically natural as mentioned before, but the mindset of those around us intensifies it. Various studies, including the survey conducted by Chanita Intawan and Stephen P. Nicholson, verify this idea.
Maybe our tendency to trust is a combination of both previously mentioned factors. Biological components are augmented by psychological ideas such as herd mentality. We are a product of both, which explains the counterintuitive tendency to trust institutions that fail us time and time again. Endless evidence exists to show us how government, healthcare, and other establishments designed to benefit us are often not working in our favor. How do we change this? In an attempt to better society, how can we battle nature and demand that these institutions earn our trust?Judge Memorial Catholic High School