Throughout human history, trust has played a fundamental part in the way we engage with one another. It’s why things such as trade have tended to be strongest amongst tight groups, whether it's family units, religious groups, or members of particular nationalities.
A recent paper from the Niels Bohr Institute provides a further reminder of just how important trust is. Central to trust is the theory of tit-for-tat in that we expect others to treat us as we treat them. In a knowledge-sharing sense, therefore, we are happy to share knowledge when we’re confident that we’ll receive help when we need it.
Given the pressure on our time, however, this may not be forthcoming. To test how things work, the researchers created “The Expert Game” to help measure how and when we collaborate.
“In real organizations, questionnaires and other indirect methods have been used to measure knowledge sharing and collaboration. We wanted to have a directly measurable, quantitative experiment that mimics a professional work situation, but which removes some of the complications from the real world, so we created ‘The Expert Game’ experiment,” the authors say.
The Expert Game
Players were required to spend several hours in the lab, from which they could only communicate through a number of predefined messages, with all communication monitored by the system.
The game was designed to provide a clear link between the knowledge and information we hold and financial gain. When the players were analyzed, it emerged that strong network connections were formed between particular players.
“Our experiment is constructed such that it ties information to monetary gain, but when we discovered how to further link information flow with trust, we got really excited, because we knew that this would allow us to investigate the formation of so called social capital,” the team says.
The initial study consisted of a small sample of just 16 people, but the researchers used the behaviors monitored in this group to construct a model to test things on a larger scale.
After multiple iterations of the model, it emerged that even the relatively simple and impersonal emails that were sent between participants was sufficient to develop the kind of trust that underpinned knowledge sharing.
As for practical implications, however, the results really only pose more questions rather than provide answers. They aren’t the first to explore the issue of trust and knowledge-sharing, however.
For instance, a study published last year found that, as with those family units mentioned at the start, a level of homogeneity tends to bolster trust in a group, which may not be good news for those of us trumpeting thought diversity as an essential ingredient of innovation.
Equally interesting was a third study, published in 2014, which found a connection between our general intelligence levels, and how much we trust 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.