Saturday, May 24, 2008


In the newest issue of Scientific American, there's an article on the molecular biology of trust. Research on trust seems to show that people are much more trustworthy when you trust them than they are when you don't trust them. When people think they are trusted, they produce oxytocin, which makes them feel warm toward the trusting person, and want to reward them by being trustworthy. In other words, if you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, they will reciprocate.

What this means is that one can get into a vicious circle, for if you have someone who does not trust people, they will typically not find themselves disappointed in that belief. A person who does not trust people creates untrustworthiness in others. If you expect people to screw you over, they will.

On the other hand, you can stop this vicious circle by trusting. These studies show that people are much more likely to act in a trustworthy manner if you show them that you trust them. Sure, you will sometimes be disappointed and have someone cheat you, but you will be cheated far less if you trust people than if you don't trust people.

Trust is important in another way. Studies also show that countries with citizens who show more trust toward others are generally wealthier than those countries where the citizens show little trust toward one another. It seems to me too that one way of breaking out of the vicious circle of racism is to show trust toward those who hate you. By doing so, you will trigger oxytocin production, and they will feel warmer toward you. Having feelings of distrust toward those who may be oppressive toward you perhaps only makes matters worse. It seems that, indeed, we should love our enemies.

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