Trust Linked to Intelligence

trustA recent study that looked at information from a large-scale survey found a link between trust and intelligence. Researchers looked at the results from a vocabulary test, along with personal views on trust and several other factors. They were able to determine that smarter people have an easier time trusting others.

The study, published on March 11 in the journal PLOS ONE, was conducted at the University of Oxford in the UK. It used data from the General Social Survey (GSS,) which is a U.S. opinion survey that is conducted every one to two years. The survey focuses on behaviors, social beliefs and socioeconomic status.

The research started by looking at data from a 10-word vocabulary test that was used to determine the intelligence of the participants. The test is similar to the Army General Classification Test, the Army’s IQ test. It asked participants to demonstrate their understanding of a set of vocabulary words by choosing a word that fits best with it. The premise is that intelligent people have a bigger vocabulary. A high score on the test would indicate a better understanding of the terms, and most likely, a higher level of intelligence.

The second phase of the study involved an interviewer asking participants how well they understood the study. Their responses were recorded as good, fair or poor. The researchers linked the participants score from their vocabulary test with their level of understanding of the survey. Participants were also asked if people can be trusted. Their answers were given a simple numeric code. For example, if they responded that they do trust people, they were given a one and if they could not trust or it depends on the situation, they were given a zero. The survey continued on a similar fashion in regards to health and happiness.

Noah Carl was the lead author of the study. He is from the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford. He and his team found that smarter people have a greater level of trust. Interestingly, the results were the same, even when accounting for differences in marital status, education level and income. Past studies have shown that “being a good judge of character is a distinct part of human intelligence which evolved through natural selection,” Carl said, and the latest research confirms their findings.

The reason they were able to link intelligence with trust, according to Carl, is that smarter people are better judges of character. Therefore, intelligent people are more trusting. In other words, they choose their friends wisely. Conversely, those with a lower IQ have difficulty trusting people. Perhaps because they have a harder time reading people and determining their intentions.

Intelligent people are able to spot those who are likely to betray them. They are able to play out scenarios in their mind and predict the long-term outcome of relationships with individuals they meet. Of course, this goes for people met in the workforce, as well as in personal relationships.

Though the study was able to establish a link between trust and intelligence, more research is needed to determine how health and happiness factor in. Researchers suggest that future studies look at how being trusting can lead to happiness and better health.

By Tracy Rose


Psych Central
University of Oxford

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