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What is Trust?

Trust Definitions


Trust is also contextual:

Trust is Always Contextual


"A" trusts (or relies on) "B" for (a specific) "C"

This is a powerful new paradigm that makes relying parties more receptive to information from a broader spectrum of sources. It also helps to diffuse animosity and mistrust of individuals or organizations, which are common inhibitors to collaboration by separating reliance on information from the quality of the relationship.

Additionally, the term "trust" is used in context with actions taken that are contingent on relying parties attaining an acceptable level of uncertainty. Trust can therefore be defined as simply being acceptable uncertainty.


Our Definition of Trust

Our Definition of Trust


Trust is what one knows to be true. It is therefore focused on trusting information, despite its source.

"Trust is a person's willingness to accept and/or increase their vulnerability by relying on implicit or explicit information."

Trust is therefore a subjective condition that allows an entity (a person) to take a consequential action as a result of accepting some (subjective) level of uncertainty:

Trust = Acceptable Uncertainty

When a person is totally uncertain, it is impossible for them to trust. Conversely, when a person has absolute trust, they are certain (or have no uncertainty). However absolute trust is only a theoretical notion. In the real world one cannot even trust one's own thoughts and actions at all times, let alone information from others. Trust can therefore only be measured by the behaviour of the relying party. If they act on the information, they either trust it or feel sufficiently protected from any loss or damage that might result from such reliance.


Another way to look at trust:

Trust = Voluntary Vulnerability


Trust = Voluntary Vulnerability

Other Definitions (Top)

Gerck, E. (1998) “Toward Real-World Models of Trust:  Reliance on Received Information”, The Meta-Certificate Workgroup,

(“Real-world or Social: The concept of social trust can be obtained from dictionaries, such as Merriam Webster: ‘ 1 a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something b : one in which confidence is placed. 2 a : dependence on something future or contingent : HOPE b : reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : CREDIT 3 a : a property interest held by one person for the benefit of another b : a combination of firms or corporations formed by a legal agreement; especially : one that reduces or threatens to reduce competition 4 archaic: TRUSTWORTHINESS 5 a (1) : a charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship (2): something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another b : responsible charge or office c : CARE, CUSTODY <the child committed to her trust>’)


Handfield, R., (2003) "Can You Trust the Concept of Trust in Supply Chain Relationships? Part I: What Does It Mean to Trust?", NC State University Supply Chain Resource Consortium Reports from the SCRC Director.

("In both serious social thought and everyday discourse, it is assumed that the meaning of trust and of its many apparent synonyms is so well known that it can be left undefined or to contextual implications." Barber (1983:7) Hosmer (op cit 380)”)


Riegelsberger, Jens, "Trust in Mediated Interactions", 27 June 2005.  The article references Zand (1972), Boss (1978), Mayer et al. (1995), McAllister (1995), Rocco (1998), and Corritore et al. (2001).

("Trust is the willingness to be vulnerable based on positive expectations about the actions of others.")


Hart C. W., and Johnson M. D. (1999) "Growing the trust relationship", Marketing Management.

("Having the confidence that the other party will not exploit one's vulnerabilities.")


Hacker, S. K., Willard, M. A., and Couturier, L. (2002) “The Trust Imperative”, American Society of Quality, pp. 33.

("A person's willingness to accept and/or increase their vulnerability to another person based on their perception of the other person's capability, commitment, and consistency.")


Wikipedia, at

("In sociology, trust is the willing acceptance of one person's power to affect another.")

("In general, trust refers to an aspect of a relationship between two parties, by which a given situation is mutually understood, and commitments are made toward actions in favor of a desired outcome. In contrast with hope, trust is almost strictly interpersonal. In contrast with faith, trust is almost always considered a subordinate material form whereas "faith" is typically reserved for a "higher power" - God, etc.")


Abdul-Rahman, A. (2005) “A Framework for Decentralised Trust Reasoning”, PhD thesis, University College London, p68.

("Misztal gives a good summary of how trust has been perceived by social scientists: What intergrates all the above definitions of trust is their common emphasis on the importance of several properties of trust relationships. The main common characteristic ... is its 'dependence on something future or contingent; future anticipation'. ... they require a time lapse between one's expectations and the other's action. ... that to trust involves more than believing; in fact, to trust is to believe despite uncertainty. ... always involves an element of risk ... from our inability to monitor others' behaviours, from our inability to have a complete knowledge about other people's motivations and, generally, from the contingency of social reality. Consequently, one's behaviour is influenced by one's beliefs about the likelihood of others behaving or not behaving in a certain way rather than solely by a cognitive understanding or by firm and certain calculation.")


Gerck, E. (1998) “Toward Real-World Models of Trust:  Reliance on Received Information”, The Meta-Certificate Workgroup,


General definition of trust (a general model of trust):

·        ‘trust is that which is essential to a communication channel but cannot be transferred from a source to a destination using that channel’.


Derived definitions (i.e., applied models):

·        ‘trust about an entity's behavior on matters of x is that which an observer has estimated at epoch T with a variance as small as desired’,

·        ‘trust about an entity's behavior on matters of x is that which an observer has estimated with high-reliance at epoch T’,

·        ‘trust is a set of natural and logical connections between expected and actual behavior’,

·        ‘trust is expected fulfillment of behavior’,

·        ‘trust is to expect all previously observed behavior’,

·        ‘trust is to expect absence of any previously unobserved behavior’,

·        ‘trust is an intersubjective statement that stands behind an authorization’,

·        ‘trust is an open-loop control process of an entity's response on matters of x’,

·        ‘trust is to rely upon actions at a distance’,

·        ‘trust is to rely upon reactions at a distance’,

·        ‘trust is to rely upon actions or reactions at a different point in space or time’,

·        ‘trust is qualified reliance on information, based on factors independent of that information’,

·        ‘trust is reliance on received information, coherently with some extent’,

·        ‘trust is that which an observer can rely upon to some known extent regarding a subject matter’,

·        ‘trust is what an observer knows about an entity and can rely upon to a qualified extent’,

·        ‘trust is received information which has a degree of belief that is acceptable to an observer’,

·        ‘trust is knowledge acceptable by an observer’,

·        ‘trust is knowledge about one's perception of a fact’,

·        ‘trust is that which provides meaning to information’,

·        ‘trust is a link between a local set of truth-values and a remote set of truth-conditions’,

·        ‘trust is a link between reference and referent’,

·        ‘trust is a link between referent and sense’,

·        ‘trust is a link between reference and sense’,

·        ‘trust is measurable by the coherence of understanding’,

·        ‘trust is that which absence can make any state possible’,

·        ‘trust is that which absence can make any state transition possible’,

·        ‘trust is that which absence can make a process non-ergodic’,

·        ‘trust is that which absence cannot justify reliance’,

·        ‘trust is time measured without a clock and/or space measured without a scale’,

·        ‘trust is a link between conceptual and perceptual realities’,

·        (objective) ‘trust is a coherent collective agreement’,

·        (intersubjective) ‘trust is a bilateral agreement, not necessarily balanced’,

·        (subjective) ‘trust is what you know you know you know’ -- i.e., you know, you can recall at will and you know how to use,

·        ...


Trust is not:

·        surveillance,

·        auditing,

·        reputation,

·        authorization,

·        closed-loop control,

·        insurability,

·        indemnifiability,

·        belief,

·        accountability,

·        hope,

·        intuition,

·        faith,

·        unqualified,

·        the inverse of risk,

·        the absence of risk,

·        transitive,

·        distributive (in psychological, sociological and legal sense),

·        associative (in mathematical sense; also in psychological, sociological and legal sense),

·        symmetric.


Trust values: Trust has a minimum of three possible values: +, 0 and -

·        + trusted according to policy(+), here called trust

·        0 trust value not assigned by either policy(+) or policy(-), here equivalent to the statement ‘needs zero trust

·        -   trusted according to policy(-), here called distrust


The respective (+) and (-) policies define the extent of trust for each positive and negative range. The trust value depends on the extent of trust. The larger the extent, the more you trust (or distrust). However, within that extent trust (or distrust) is always 100%.”)



Other Definitions

Alex Todd conducted a workshop "Building Trust in a Law Firm" at the 2006 Toronto Law Office Management Association (TLOMA) Conference.









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