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Is intellect the key to trust?

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Earlier this month I wrote a couple of pieces about employee engagement, with one in particular highlighting the crucial role trust plays in the whole thing.  It focused on a study exploring the way trust forms in the workplace, and in particular the psychological contract that exists between employer and employee.

The research came to the perhaps not that surprising conclusion that when employees trusted their employer to treat them well, they were less likely to leave their positions.  Importantly however, those who felt that the employer was both fair and trustworthy were also less likely to leave, even if the psychological contract hadn’t been met.

All of which seems reasonable enough.  What role does intelligence play in all of this however?  A study, published recently in PLOS ONE, set out to explore any possible links between our intellect and our ability to trust other people.

The basis of the study was the General Social Survey, which seeks to characterize the population according to attitudes and characteristics.  Of particular interest was the notion of generalised trust, or trust of unknown members of society.

Participants in the survey were asked “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?”

Perhaps not surprisingly it emerged that those who were more trusting were also happier and higher levels of physical health.  What was equally interesting however was that intelligence was a good indicator of trusting others.

“Intelligence is shown to be linked with trusting others, even after taking into account factors like marital status, education and income. This finding supports what other researchers have argued, namely that being a good judge of character is a distinct part of human intelligence which evolved through natural selection.” the study’s lead author, Noah Carl of Oxford University, said.

Of course, intellect is not the only thing linked to high levels of trust.  Previous studies have suggested that trusting people are more likely to start a new business or engage in voluntary work.  When applied across societies, studies have suggested nations with high trust levels have more efficient public institutions, greater economic growth and higher levels of social capital.

Maybe rather than recruiting for intellect then, it might be best if companies simply look for those that are trusting.

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