Trust as a concept in social sciences
Trust is defined as the general expectation that, in many situations, subjectively pleasant outcomes will occur even without action on the part of the individual. Since the 1980s, the prerequisites and consequences of trust have been the subject of mounting interest among researchers in the fields of social psychology, political sciences, sociology, economics, and communication studies.
Depending on the research focus, the concept of trust may refer either to the trust placed in others (i.e., interpersonal trust) or to the trust placed in political institutions, officials, or the political system as a whole (i.e., political/institutional trust). Our study focused on interpersonal trust.
Interpersonal trust is defined as an individual’s expectation that other persons’ statements or promises can be relied on independent of whether they are strangers or familiar persons.
Interpersonal trust is defined as an individual’s expectation that other persons’ statements or promises can be relied on independent of whether they are strangers or familiar persons. Thus, interpersonal trust refers to the extent to which a person ascribes credibility to other people and expects positive outcomes in the context of social interactions.
Empirical studies in the social sciences have shown that individual differences in interpersonal trust are systematically related to other constructs, such as behaviors and personality characteristics. For example, interpersonal trust constitutes a resilience factor for mental diseases because it contributes to a person’s physical and psychological well-being and reduces the negative impact of social stress.
Furthermore, a higher level of interpersonal trust goes along with many other positive aspects. It is associated with a higher level of life and training satisfaction, optimistic attitudes concerning one’s own life, and a lower tendency toward delinquent behaviors.
[Interpersonal trust] is associated with a higher level of life and training satisfaction, optimistic attitudes concerning one’s own life, and a lower tendency toward delinquent behaviors.
Moreover, the level of interpersonal trust varies among different sociodemographic groups. Interpersonal trust decreases with the level of education but increases with socioeconomic status. Contrary to this, social distrust and social anxiety are positively related to age and years of education.
As can be seen, interpersonal trust is highly relevant in people’s everyday lives and in contemporary society as a whole. Thus, studies investigating the functioning of social interactions between single individuals need a valid and—especially in research settings with severe time limitations—efficient measure of interpersonal trust.
The Interpersonal Trust Short Scale (KUSIV3)
Motivated by this need, the Interpersonal Trust Short Scale (German: Kurzskala Interpersonelles Vertrauen; KUSIV3) has been developed and validated for the German-language context. KUSIV3 allows measuring interpersonal trust with just three questions. As the completion time of KUSIV3 is less than 30 seconds, it is a very economic ultra-short questionnaire. Questions are answered using a response scale ranging from (1) do not agree at all to (5) completely agree.
Researchers may not only be interested in surveying interpersonal trust in Germany but also in other societies. To enhance the scope of application of KUSIV3 and to enable social surveys to use KUSIV3 in an English-language context, the scale was adapted to the English language.
An empirical investigation of the appropriateness of this English-language adaption was hitherto lacking. Therefore, in 2018, we conducted two web-based surveys among about 500 individuals each from the UK and Germany that represented the adult population with regard to age, gender, and educational attainment.
The results of our study showed, first, that the English-language adaptation of KUSIV3 is an appropriate questionnaire to measure interpersonal trust. Second, also the associations of KUSIV3 with other personality characteristics were as expected and comparable to those of the German-language version.
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Interpersonal trust in the UK and Germany
For both the UK and Germany, we found the strongest positive associations with optimism, life satisfaction, and the Big Five personality traits Agreeableness and Emotional Stability. That is, individuals with higher levels of optimism, life satisfaction, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability also had a tendency to have higher levels of interpersonal trust.
Researchers in English-speaking countries now have the possibility of measuring interpersonal trust in settings with severe time limitations.
Third, by examining if the questionnaire measures the same in both language versions, our results indicated that interpersonal trust, as measured by KUSIV3, is understood and answered in the same way in both countries. This implies that, on the one hand, the average response given across all individuals in a country to the KUSIV3 questionnaire and, on the other hand, associations with other constructs can be compared between the UK and Germany without bias.
In sum, the results of our study showed for the first time the utility of the English-language adaptation of KUSIV3 and the comparability with the German-language source version. Researchers in English-speaking countries now have the possibility of measuring interpersonal trust in settings with severe time limitations.
The scale is recommended for use in self-report surveys in the social sciences and for research purposes only, not for individual diagnostics.