The Role of Trust in the building of Relationships on the Web   1 comment

Posted at 2:05 pm in Psychology,Sociology

My research focuses in on the value and perception of trust when it comes to building a relationship with people on the Web in comparison to the approach that we adopt in the real world and am going to be studying the issue from sociological and psychological points of view.


There are a number of different core theories in the field of sociology that when you put them next to the Web to compare their approach online, the results are interesting and one such is the theory of social cognition. The theory reads that to understand people behavior you have to be able to see them; their physical appearance and heir characteristics to make a judgment. So if you are at a market trading for goods, you might decide on whether you want to buy the goods from that particular person based upon these issues. However online when you decide to buy a good from a seller on eBay, you cannot see them and therefore your decision is based upon what they tell you about them; there is therefore a huge element of trust involved in the process.

There is also the concept of central traits and so where we grow to know somebody that initial judgment call on how we perceive will be based upon a range of information some of which are going to central to the decision and others that are going to be no more than ancillary. These traits that are central such as are person is happy or excitable we can make that determination for we by looking at the person but you cannot do that in the case of individual online that you have never seen or met. Again therefore the notion of trust becomes even more of an important issue.

The notion of group behaviors online is hugely affected by the notion of trust. In the real world, to a great extent what we do is influenced by those around us; when we see those around us do a particular act we are more prone to doing the same and we see them not do a particular act we are more prone to not do it. To a large degree this is so because we trust the people that are acting so; we know them and trust the decision that they have made and decide o follow. However take the example of an e-petition, here research has shown that a lot of people sign online petitions and join causes based upon the strength of umbers that it already has; they do know the people who have decided to take that action but decide to follow nonetheless. The level of faith and trust put in these people is really interesting and great in the context here.

There are also the notions of obedience to authority and interpersonal relations with the latter to a great degree being built upon perceptions that we make up those around us.


According to Erikson there 8 stages of human progression that we all have to pass through as we make way through our lives. One of these is the ability to trust, which he cites as coming at the beginning when you’re a new born. The theory is that when you’re born because you are unable to fend for yourself you depend on family to look after you and put your trust in them. If they fail, you struggle throughout the rest of your life to be able to trust.

Erikson relates the theory to a new born child however it ca obviously apply to any point I your life; there is not point at which stop trusting. There are actions that occur throughout your life that affect your ability to trust for example having a partner who might cheat on you. Therefore the individual’s ability trust has changed because of the Web. Trust in a large part is built on the ability to believe hat somebody else tells you but at the same time when you are with them personally your can always make sure for yourself as you are in their company. However that is not always the case online.

Erikson’s theory of stage development seems a little inconsistent with the ability of the Web to be able to allow you to trust. It almost brings an entirely new element to the trust stage because you having to trust people with whom you may never have any contact at all, as opposed to say family and friends.


  • ‘Sociology: Making sense of Society’- Marsh et al.
  • ‘Introductory Sociology’ – Bilton, Bonnett, Jones, Lawson, Skinner, Stanworth & Webster.
  • ‘Invitation to Psychology’ – Wade & Tavris.
  • ‘Psychology: The Science of Behaviour’ – Carlson et al.
  • ‘Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology’ – Atkinson et al.

Written by shrk106 on February 26th, 2010

One Response to 'The Role of Trust in the building of Relationships on the Web'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'The Role of Trust in the building of Relationships on the Web'.

  1. Interested to see Bauman has fallen by the wayside – given your legal training I thought you might have liked his use of taking people/things on trust and the legal-rational legitimation vs traditional and charismatic legitimation. How might we use ideas like these to understand trust vis a vis the web?
    The lines between sociology and psychology are often a bit blurred, but I wonder if traits and social cognition are more psychological? Can you convince me otherwise?.
    A lot of psychology is interested in developmental processes – the counterpart in sociology might be ideas about socialisation. Can you see how these ideas might be used to explain trust on/in the web. (our industrial partners from the serious organised crime agency are very very interested in understanding why we trust the web so much we hand over our credit card details to strangers…can any of the reading you are doing help them with this?)

    Catherine Pope

    12 Mar 10 at 6:03 pm

Leave a Reply