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Intelligent people trust others more

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds intelligent people more likely to trust others, compared with those who are less intelligent.

New research shows that intelligent people are more likely to trust others.


People who frequently trust others are more likely to be highly intelligent, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers for the study say that the reason intelligent people can trust more easily is because they tend to be better judges of character and can therefore pinpoint those who are likely to betray them.

For the study, the researchers evaluated data from the General Social Survey (GSS), a public opinion survey taken every year or two that asks a sampling of adults in the U.S. various questions about their behaviors, social attitudes and socioeconomic status.

Such questions have been asked in previous studies to determine overall trust and intelligence levels. This study, however, is the first to use the questions to assess the relationship between trust and intelligence.

To achieve their goal, the research team measured the intelligence of survey participants by administering a 10-word vocabulary test to determine how well the participants understood the questions they were asked in the survey.

As a result, the researchers learned that the participants with high intelligence scores were more likely to put their trust in others, whereas those who scored lower were less likely to trust others.

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In explaining possible reasons for this finding, the research team said that intelligent people are more capable of judging the character of others, which enables them to determine who is trustworthy or not and therefore develop relationships with those who will not betray them.

Another finding was that smart individuals tend to be more capable of sizing up situations and identifying incentives to keep people aligned to their side of an agreement.

Study leader, Noah Carl of Oxford University’s Department of Sociology, explained that their findings support the findings of past research that shows “being a good judge of character is a distinct part of human intelligence, which evolved through natural selection."

However, he also added that there other ways to interpret the evidence – and that more research is necessary in order to “disentangle” other interpretations.

Also consistent with the findings of past research is evidence showing that people who trust others are more likely to be healthier and happier.

But, in this latest study, researchers found that trustworthy people who were healthier and happier were not necessarily of higher intelligence. As the study authors wrote, this finding strongly suggests that past research “has not overestimated the impact of generalized trust on health and well-being."

The researchers concluded that their findings indicate that the ability to trust others is a valuable trait, and one that can contribute to successful connections and social institutions, such as financial markets and welfare systems. They also said that trusting is a valuable quality that governments, as well as civic and religious organizations “should strive to cultivate."

SOURCES: 1. Generalized Trust and Intelligence in the United States, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091786, Noah Carl et al., published in PLOS ONE, 11 March 2014. 2. The University of Oxford, press release, accessed 14 March 2014.