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FULLY DIGITAL (UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE) : PhD Defence Eveline van Zeeland-van der Holst | Designing for trust - A neuroscientific and design perspective on trust within a professional context

Designing for trust - A neuroscientific and design perspective on trust within a professional context

Due to the COVID-19 crisis the PhD defence of Eveline van Zeeland-van der Holst will take place online (until further notice).

The PhD defence can be followed by a live stream.

Eveline van Zeeland-van der Holst is a PhD student in the research group Product-Market Relations (PMR). Her supervisor is J. Henseler from the Faculty of Engineering Technolog.

Trust is the glue of society. Because of the crucial role of trust with respect to growth, prosperity and business success, it is important to understand how we can design for trust in such a way that person-to-person trust can easily flourish. The main research question of this dissertation is therefore: Can we design for trust within a professional context? In order to do so, three research phases were set out with respect to the scope of trust between business professionals, i.e. Business-to-Business (phase 1 and 2), or regarding the trust in a business professional (phase 3).

During the first research phase the following research question was answered: Can we create an enriched understanding on trust between business professionals by integrating a neuroscientific perspective in the business literature, and, if so, how? The results of an exploratory bibliometric research indicate that scholars studying trust in the context of B2B-marketing predominantly refer to sources from the domains of Business and Management. Inputs regarding the study of trust from the domain of Psychology are rare, and inputs from neuroscience or biology are very scarce. So it appears to be possible to create an enriched understanding on trust between business professionals by integrating a neuroscientific perspective in the business literature. Since a neuroscientific perspective learns us more about the roots of our behaviour, such a perspective definitely has the potential to be of added value with respect to the understanding of our behaviour. Therefore a literature study was done to collect insights from neuroscience that could foster the understanding of the concept of trust between business professionals. One of the results of this literature study is that the cognitive and affective elements of trust, as they are often distinguished by B2B-marketing scholars, are so intertwined that they cannot be completely separated and that the concepts of trust and distrust are so different that they should be separated. Since the B2B-marketing literature was in a deadlock concerning the separation of cognitive and affective elements of trust, and was not paying a lot of attention to distrust, these findings are valuable. Another result of the literature study was that individual differences in the ease of trusting others can be explained by neurobiological factors such as hormones or differences in resting patterns of frontal cortex activity. Based on the literature study a framework is proposed in which a path is set out where the business professional first makes a rapid impression of the trustee before he is open to a trust building process.

During the second research phase there was explored which social cues play a role during this quick first impression process that initiates the trust building process. First the different social cues and their possible impact are set out. By integrating findings from the disciplines of neuroscience, biology and psychology with the discipline of B2B-marketing, an interdisciplinary perspective on the automatic evaluation of social cues by business professionals is presented. This literature study concluded with the finding that social cues are likely to have a substantial value during the first encounter between professional buyer and seller. Positively evaluated social cues will create an approach-motivated behavioural intention, whereas negatively evaluated ones will create an avoidance-motivated behavioural intention. The literature study was followed by a field study in which two social cues were studied for their effect in the context of a first encounter between professional buyer and seller of consultancy. The main social cue that was tested in this field study was the facial Width-to-Height ratio (fWHR). A relatively wide male face is communicating success and a relatively small male face is communicating trust, and it is unclear what business professionals prefer with respect to the hiring of a business consultant. The other social cue that was investigated is the attractiveness of the face, which is considered to be one of the dominant social cues. By applying conjoint analysis (n = 381), the relative value of these social cues could be measured and we found that attractiveness was indeed having the highest value. Regarding the fWHR, we found that in a zero-acquaintance situation business professionals prefer low-fWHR business consultants, which means that buyers choose trust over success. This last finding is also supported by the approach motivations that business professionals gave when describing their first choice business consultant: the word that was used most often was ‘trustworthy’. From this we can conclude that business professionals indeed use social cues to assess the trustworthiness of their potential professional business mates.

In the third research phase we were actually ‘designing for trust’. Now we know that cues matter in a professional context, we could think about the design of these cues in such a way that they foster trust development. Where in research phase two the focus was lying on nonverbal, physical cues, the focus in this last research phase was on a verbal cue: communication style. We have applied the two dimensions of the Stereotype Content Model (warmth and competence), which has a lot of similarities with the two dimensions of trust (benevolence and credibility) and turned those dimensions into communication styles. We used the World Café Method (n=25) to make this transformation, and created a list of elements for the warm and competent style. These elements were programmed into the conversational design of a chatbot. The warm and competent ‘trust-bots’ were tested in two different professional contexts: a medical context (n=127) and a commercial context (n=56). Both the design process and the user tests indicate a preference for competence with respect to the development of trust in the medical context and a preference for warmth in the context of E-commerce. So when designing for trust context matters a lot, and there appears to be no ‘one-size-fits-all’-approach for the design of trust.