A recent article used the current presidential campaign as a backdrop to explain the phenomenon of building trust and in particular for leaders the question “Is thinking things over a good quality in a leader?”. Research from Yale University’s experts in Psychology, Economics, Cognitive Science and Management has found some interesting results that may explain some things we are seeing in the presidential race. “Trump made his name as the “You’re fired” guy. He has never held political office, has arguably failed to generate concrete or realistic policy proposals, regularly changes his positions on issues and consistently gets the facts wrong.” whereas on the other hand “Hillary Clinton is the opposite of hotheaded. She is careful and calculating – which, despite being a strong asset in actually carrying out the duties of public office, has become a liability in her presidential campaign by undermining the public’s trust in her.”
The report goes on to explain “Our research didn’t focus on perceptions of politicians, but rather looked at behavior in a more abstract context. We conducted a series of experiments involving economic decisions between anonymous strangers on the internet. Our goal was to create a scenario that would capture the classic trade-off between self-interest and helping others. This is something that comes up in a lot in politics, but also in all sorts of social interactions, such as in our relationships with friends, coworkers and lovers.” The experiment has two stages of a “Helping Game” where some participants are given money and have the opportunity to give some of it to benefit other participants. Helpers can choose to give money by either first knowing how much that help will be or by not knowing before they decide whether to help. A third participant is informed of the actions of the Helper and asked to judge how much trust they place in the Helper. This is quantified in an investment scenario where the third person decides how much to invest in the Helper. They found that Helpers who agree to help the Recipient without “looking” at the cost are trusted more by Trusters. Moreover, they really are more trustworthy. These “uncalculating Helpers” actually return more money to Trusters in the face of the temptation to keep it all for themselves.
The research found that reputation was an important motivator for trustworthy behaviour and when the consequences are going to be observed by others, we are more likely to act in a trustworthy manner. The study argued that it showed reputational and trust benefits to appearing to be uncalculating and principled.
“This conclusion likely applies broadly to social relationships with friends, colleagues, neighbors and lovers. For example, it may shed light on why a good friend is someone who helps you out, no questions asked – and not someone who carefully tracks favours and remembers exactly how much you owe.”
Returning to politics and a caveat to taking all calculating to be bad, “there’s an important nuance to what it means to be “calculating.” One sense of “calculating” is self-interested: Before you agree to adhere to your ethical principles, or to sacrifice for others, you consider the costs and benefits to yourself – and you follow through with doing the “right” thing only if you conclude that it will be best for you. Another way to be “calculating” is to carefully consider what’s right for others. Instead of acting on her gut, a policymaker could conduct a complex analysis to figure out the best way to implement a policy to maximise its benefit to the population.”
Full paper found here: Uncalculating cooperation is used to signal trustworthiness