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Publication: Cognitie, Creier, Comportament / Cognition, Brain, Behavior
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 73189
ISSN: 12248398
Journal code: CCC


When studying work teams, understanding the phenomena which determine or influence the cooperation among individuals is essential. Among them, trust has received sustained attention in research literature, as it enables cooperative human actions (McKnight, Cummings, & Chervany, 1995), generally influencing group processes (Deutsch, 1973; Gambetta, 1988; Dirks, 1999; Dirks & Ferrin, 1998), and behavior (Golembiewsky & McConkie, 1975).

Trust appeared most frequently as a research question within the organizational field (Ebert, 2007). This is a reflection of the importance given in modern organizational settings to collaborative work, cooperation and sharing of responsibilities among employees (Costa, 2003). However, a closer analysis of Ebert's (2007) meta-analysis results shows that most research on trust in organizational settings focus on trust in superiors and leaders (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002; Burke, Sims, Lazzara, & Salas, 2007) and also on trust in the organization or between organizations (Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, & Camerer, 1998). Even though scholars acknowledge its importance in sustaining group effectiveness (Costa, 2003), only a limited number of empirical studies examine trust in relation with work teams formation and group processes in general (Simons & Peterson, 2000; Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Costa, 2003; Dirks, 1999; Mayer & Davis, 1999; Gladstein, 1984; Kiffin-Petersen, 2004; Curseu, 2007; Pitariu, 2008; Curseu & Schruijer, 2010). This is considered to be a consequence of the lack of agreement between different trust conceptualizations (Costa, 2003).

Having been studied in very different contexts and at different levels of analysis (Costa, 2003), consent regarding what trust really is or regarding trust formation, manifestation and outcomes, is difficult to attain (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996). The increase in the number of conceptual works and reviews on trust coming from different fields (Ebert, 2007; McKnight & Chervany, 1996; Watson, 2005) adds to this lack of a common perspective on the phenomenon. An analysis of the literature highlights the need for an integrative theory and definition of trust in order to further advance the empirical research (Costa, 2004; Ebert, 2007). Despite this general agreement, the existent reviews seem to have little impact on the empirical research conducted so far. One way of understanding why this happens is by examining those characteristics of trust that are reported in these reviews as agreed upon in most studies.

The complexity of this concept is the first among these characteristics. Trust is described as a fragile, emotional, interpersonal phenomenon which is difficult to operationalize and measure even though it forms the basis for every interaction (Ebert, 2007; Watson, 2005). It is a fundamental social mechanism that allows for coordinated action (Bachmann, 2006), but because of being such a mechanism it is mostly implicit, routinized and therefore available to our analysis primarily when it is being violated (Nooteboom, 2006). Trust is a multi-faceted construct (Wang & Vassileva, 2003; Cummings & Bromiley, 1996) and its effects can hardly be isolated from the effects of other interpersonal factors such as affect (Williams, 2001). The complexity of the construct makes it difficult to fully understand and research trust as a whole.

Research also shows trust to be situation-specific (Cahil et al., 2003; Marsh, 1994; Rempel & Holmes, 1986; Wang & Vasileva, 2003; Schoorman, Mayer & Davis, 2007), thus context should be considered a critical factor in understanding it. Moreover, scholars argue that research that does not acknowledge the contextual factor will be limited in its ability to truly represent trust functioning (Rousseau et al., 1998).

Last but not least, trust is not a static, but a dynamic process which develops over time and permanently goes through phases such as building, decline and renewal (Costa, 2004; Jones & George, 1998; Nooteboom, 2006; McKnight, Cummings, & Chervany, 1995; Dirks, 1999). Trust does not just provide a basis for a relationship, but it is also shaped by this relationship (Nooteboom, 2006) and as a consequence it should be studied as a process.

This complex, dynamic and contextual character of trust could be the reason why no integrative theory has fully emerged. The examination of the existing theoretical propositions shows that these three characteristics are rarely taken into consideration, never exhaustively, and that none of them is reflected in the way research on trust has been conducted. In spite of the complexity of trust, researchers tend to develop narrow, theory driven, conceptualizations of it, with limited scope, in order to be able to fit it to their research type (McKnight & Chervany, 2002; McKnight, et al., 1995). This is also due to the methods most commonly used - experiments or cross-sectional research (Kramer, 2006; Dirks, 1999; McKnight, et al., 1995). Because of such methodological approaches, trust has usually been studied as a static variable, rather than as a dynamic one. Hence the research questions were focused rather on the "what" [precedes or results from trust] and very little on the "how" and "why" [trust develops] (McKnight, et al., 1995).

Recently, researchers started to acknowledge the lack of understanding related to trust and trust formation (McKnight, et al., 1995) and the fact that the most appropriate definitions of trust are context dependent (Goudge & Gilson, 2005). Research on trust in different fields should therefore rely on a contextual definition and understanding of this phenomenon and not on the continual search for that unitary theoretical view. Thus far, there is little research that takes into consideration the contextual factors, and there are few naturalistic explorations of trust in real-life settings (Kramer, 2006). Integration endeavors rely mostly on the examination of existing literature and research, on scholarly definitions of trust, and less on the meanings attached to trust in everyday life. Nevertheless, it is suggested that in order to adequately capture the complexity and depth of this phenomenon, researchers should be grounded in and start with the meanings and experiences of trust in everyday life. They should then refine these data for a further scientific use and the results obtained at this second stage should be once again compared to the everyday terms and experience in order to assess how well they reflect the breadth of meaning. It is only this permanent dialogue between common experiences and scientific approaches that can improve the applicability of the latter and make research relevant for our everyday life (McKnight, et al., 1995; McKnight & Chervany, 2002). Moreover, when scientific usage and definitions of the same term are divergent, such as in the case of trust, it is recommended that, instead of using existent theoretical conceptualizations, researchers should revisit the way the term is being used and experienced in the everyday life (McKnight, et al., 1995; McKnight & Chervany, 2002). If such an approach is to be undertaken, the widely used experimental or cross-sectional methods become inappropriate. Scientists should therefore strive to use methods that are better "able to capture real-world thought processes of real world individuals in natural contexts" (Kramer, 2006, p. 73) and to allow researchers to explore the way people actually think about trust and experience it.

Taking on this recommendation, the aim of our study was to produce rich and faithful accounts and descriptions of the way trust has emerged, developed and was experienced in student work teams. We focused our research on the way team members grew to trust other members of their group while working on a task that created great interdependence, and the way they had experienced the process. We used real research teams with a common goal that everybody in the team was committed to and was responsible for. Furthermore, we intended to elucidate some of the processes involved in trust formation and maintenance within these teams, in order to refine data for further scientific use. In doing so, we have acknowledged the contextual, complex and dynamic character of trust and developed a qualitative research methodology able to address it properly, the grounded theory approach.


Although quantitative methodology (laboratory experiments and cross-sectional surveys) has been traditionally used to investigate trust, we have shown that it suffers some limitations in addressing the complex, contextual and dynamic character of this phenomenon. The literature is starting to underline the benefits of inductive approaches, grounded in the common experience and language of people as a starting point to refine knowledge for scientific and practical use. Such approaches need a different type of methodology, a qualitative one that minimizes the assumptions of the researcher regarding trust definition and implications (Kramer, 2006). This is particularly important since very little is known about trust formation, and qualitative methods can more thoroughly explore peoples' view on trust and trustworthy behavior (Goudge & Gilson, 2005).

The grounded theory approach we used becomes suitable for such an endeavor as it allows us to ground the research in the common meaning and use of the term trust in everyday life (Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005; McKnight, et al., 1995). In addition, due to the constant comparison process and the structured way of analyzing qualitative data, it allows us to go beyond collected data and refine the understanding of experiencing trust for further scientific use and for generating knowledge with practical value (Chirica, Andrei, & Ciuce, 2009). Similar approaches can be identified in the literature exploring patient-physician trust (Thom and Campbell, 1997) or trust and distrust in work relationships (Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005).


The study included nine participants. Because we used the emergent design, each interview oriented the following one and we stopped interviewing when codes derived in the analysis became saturated in data. Taking on the interpretive stand on saturation, we stopped data collection when two subsequent interviews and their analysis did not contribute to a deeper understanding of the phenomenon under study (Goulding, 1999).

All participants were students at the bachelor level, enrolled in a course on organizational psychology where they had been asked to work in research groups of ten. They didn't have the possibility to choose the group members and every team worked together for a research project which represented their term task in this course. All the participants had worked in groups before but reported that they didn't have any prior experience in working together with the members of the research teams they were assigned to. No explicit rules for task completion or communication were given and the task was formulated ambiguously in order to allow for self-organization.

In order to study the development of trust in these teams we asked students to participate voluntarily in our research after they had finished the course and the project. A number of 15 students offered to participate out of which nine were interviewed. They were all women, 20 - 22 years old, and have all been members in different work groups during the organizational psychology research project.


In-depth interviews were conducted individually with each of the nine participants. Interview duration ranged from 27 minutes to 49 minutes. All interviews were led by one of the authors with prior experience in interviewing and grounded theory approach. Specifically, each interview started with an introduction on the basic rules of the interviewing process and a statement of the general research interest (Baban, 2002). Participants were then asked to describe how they had seen the entire experience of working in a new work team during the research project and how they had felt at the time. The interviewer then conducted the discussion towards aspects of trust or distrust, dynamics of trust in team members and experiences that caused them to trust or distrust a certain member of the group. Each interview was audio-recorded and then fully transcribed. The transcriptions were read and discussed among the research team members in order to establish themes and topics which should be more thoroughly addressed in subsequent interviews. This procedure ensured the emergent character of the research and contributed to the saturation of the conceptual categories. The interviews stopped when two subsequent interviews didn't bring any new information related to the research question.

Data analysis

The accuracy of transcriptions against the original recordings was assessed by one of the researchers. Transcripts were then coded independently by two of the researchers using grounded theory techniques. These ensured a systematic analytic approach in condensing the verbal material contained in the transcripts. Grounded theory method uses the constant comparative technique to analyze data and consistently with this method, all sets of data were compared with one another (Strauss & Corbin, 1998; Charmaz, 2006). A first step was represented by the open coding of the material. In this phase each interview was analyzed line by line and the researchers underlined key concepts, found clusters or summarized information under a label. The labels were then grouped in conceptual categories by discussions and consensus among the research team. In reaching this consensus all sets of data were again compared against each-other using the constant comparative method. This process was repeated for all the interviews and the conceptual categories were permanently reassessed, discussed and modified in order to incorporate new data. The final categories included the reported experience of the participants in the study. A final stage was represented by the theoretical integration phase in which the researchers examined the literature on trust in order to understand possible links between concepts found in data (Charmaz, 2006; Goulding, 1999). Higher order dimensions were extracted out of the conceptual categories and links between them were deducted in order to conceptualize trust, trust antecedents, trust development, trust forms and consequences in this specific sample. Finally, a model was proposed to explain the development of trust in the work teams under study.


Initial codes, resulted from open coding were compared to one-another and later were modified and grouped by consensus between the members of the research team. Each category accompanied by the main codes belonging to it and some illustrative verbatim examples are illustrated in Table 1.

Higher order dimensions

The highest level of analysis consisted in relating the derived categories with the existing literature on trust and using this literature as a guide in understanding the complex relationships between data. At this point, the identified categories were reanalyzed using the most common questions of the research literature on trust: What is trust? How does trust develop? What types of trust can be described? What are the benefits of trust (Kramer, 1999; Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005)? These questions have guided data analysis at this final stage and allowed us to develop an understanding of the way trust emerged and developed in student work teams. Also, the dynamic character of the researched phenomena has emerged from all categories as an important higher order dimension.

What is trust? Trust development and consequences of trust

For the participants, trust/distrust consisted in positive/negative expectations regarding the responsible and dutifully behavior of group members, the outcome of group work and the quality of interpersonal relations in a context of perceived vulnerability and risk: "I was thinking if we'll make it... if everybody will contribute to the same extent...", "We expected to successfully solve our task, that all of us contribute their efforts in order to complete our goal", "I knew that all of us will be involved in the task and I knew we were going to do a good job...". The perceived vulnerability and risk in this particular context was based on the characteristics of the task (interdependence, ambiguity, importance of the task: "Uncertainties ... we didn't know what was expected from us in this task...") and characteristics of the group (unknown members, lack of work routines: "As we didn't know each other, I didn't know if everybody would work on their tasks and how and I was thinking that there may be problems in that sense...").

Participants described trust development in terms of a series of cognitive processes starting with perceptions of vulnerability and risk due to the specific characteristics of the task and of their groups. These perceptions aroused negative emotions and focused information processing on acquiring knowledge about the other members of the group. Here, we could identify two levels of information gathering and processing: a conscious, explicit one made through observation, overt communication and evaluations (Getting to know the others: "it was difficult until I started to know the others a little bit, to see their working styles, how they relate to one another") and an implicit level. The latter was based on first impressions, evaluations and stereotypes (Dispositional trust: "I generally start with this [trusting people] in any relation" "this is the first sight, the first discussion... I trusted him completely. (...) and I knew it was going to be fine") on one hand, and the was derived from interactions within the group and group experiences on the other hand (Group interactions: "in my other group, the one with which I've worked on other projects I knew from the beginning who does what, what are their strong points, and we skipped these phases").

The presence of an implicit level of information processing is indicated by the participants' impossibility to verbally express certain experiences ("I have no explanation for what simply did and it seems surprisingly to me even now (...) it happened because it happened, I have no explanation"; "I have no words for it...", "I really cannot say..."). Currently, the most powerful criterion for differentiating the explicit and implicit information processing is represented by the existence of verbal descriptions/doubling (David, 2000; Lewicki, 1986; Schacter, 1987; Jacoby, 1991; Seger, 1994). The frequency of codes describing difficulties to verbally express experiences and processes in our data indicates the existence of an implicit level of processing in trust formation.

Both levels of information processing led to two types of evaluations (competency and interpersonal relationships) which fundament the two types of trust that we could identify in the participants' accounts: relationship based and competency based ("formal trust in the sense that I trust you in matters related to our working together but further, interpersonal trust, at the level of relatively closed relationships, beyond collaboration, I do not believe we had that"). Trust behaviors such as cooperation, sociability, support were described as the consequences of trust, but also as elements contributing to trust maintenance. Group members constantly monitor their own behaviors and the others' assessing loyalty, confidentiality and reciprocity ("I believe it is maintained by reciprocity, I mean, I believe that if everything comes only from one person to the other it is not ok. Somewhere, we must have two dimensions, things to come from both ways, yours and his/hers, otherwise you cannot maintain it, I really think so.").

Types of trust

As we have shown before, participants described different forms of trust. A first distinction is made between the implicit or subjective trust which forms in a similar way to the first impression, and a more crystallized trust which appears as a conscious process of evaluation of competency, forming interpersonal relationship, trust behaviors and monitoring trust. The initial trust is seen to influence the cognitive processes involved in getting to know the others as it triggers conscious efforts to evaluate the trustworthy character of the others, while it also directly influences the formation of trust.

Another important distinction is made between competency based and relationship based trust. Competency-based trust is considered to be related to task accomplishment ("formal trust in the sense that I trust you in matters related to our working together", "not checking you to see if you have completed your task"), while relationship-based trust is seen as "interpersonal trust, at a level of relatively close relationship, more than being good collaborators [...] in the sense that I have the courage, or the openness to tell him/her... I don't know... personal stuff, something related to my inner life, to me". Competency-based trust is associated with the transactional memory of teams or team cognition - "I already knew who can contribute what, in which field is more competent", "the fact that we knew and understood each other better, we knew what each of us could do or could contribute to the task" - while interpersonal relationship is rather connected to cohesion and group identity "It was the only group I worked with where something extraordinary happened (...) It really was an extraordinary relationship, we couldn't even believe it (...) we felt really united". These results confirm the fact that trust, in its both forms, could be better conceptualized in terms of group emergent states (Curseu, 2006).

One of the most interesting finding of the study consists in the patterns of evolution of trust types. Irrespective of the initial focus, on competency based or relationship based trust, the latter was constantly seen as the higher, more complex form. Moreover, participants did not consider the two forms as being independent from one another. Two patterns were observed. A first pattern consisted in working on relationship-based trust formation and on the basis of it, competency-based trust was later formed. A second pattern showed how competency-based trust evolved in relationship-based trust when competency and results stopped being questioned and the attention of the group shifted from the task to group identity building ("...competency is there, we know it is there even though somebody, for example, underperforms at a certain moment. It wouldn't mean that he/she suddenly became stupid and we can no longer count on him. We would try to see what happened, to help him/her... it is about acceptance, we accept each other with all our characteristics, good or bad and we are willing to go further with our relationship...").

Dynamic Character

In this research, the dynamic character and the development process is the most preeminent attribute of trust and refers to a permanent evolution and assessment of trust throughout its different stages and forms. According to the participants, the entire process is difficult to explain as many stages overlap or return in the process at different times. Asked to report on trust formation and evolution in their teams, participants described a dynamic, spiral type of process. Trust behaviors, as the outputs of the process, were seen to re-enter it both by influencing group experience and interaction but also by influencing the maintenance of trust through their perceived characteristics (reciprocity, loyalty and confidentiality). This description is supported by research that underlines the fact that trust is not a final state, but a dynamic process (Jones & George, 1998), and by conceptualizations of trust as an emergent state of the group (Curseu, 2006).

Another aspect of trust evolution emphasized by our findings was the constant need for evaluation. Being an emergent state of the group, trust is never fully formed, but always reevaluated, recalibrated and rebuilt across the stages of a groups' existence. What changes is the object of the evaluation process. When talking about trust in their team, participants don't only refer to themselves but describe a shared group cognition and shared group knowledge about group members ("We couldn't give her any responsibility in the task at all") despite the fact that each one of them entered the work team with personal cognitions, knowledge and an initial trust in the same group members.

Research findings presented here are synthesized in the model of trust development we are proposing (Figure 1). The model describes the processes involved in trust formation highlighted by the data and emphasizes the dynamic character of trust formation.


As we have already shown, the efforts for developing an integrative theory of trust not only prove to be inefficient but also inadequate given the highly complex, contextual and dynamic character of the investigated phenomenon. The findings of the present research contribute to trust theory and practice in work groups in several ways. Most of the approaches in this field are theory driven and based on explicit measures using pre-existing scales (Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005). The approach we have undertaken takes on a different direction, from group members' experiences to theory formation. The added value of this type of approach is demonstrated by the results obtained. Although they are consistent with existing research in this field, our findings also succeed to shed light on some less addressed issues related to trust in work groups.

We have to emphasize the fact that the conceptualization of trust reported by the participants is consistent with the existing literature that underlines both the rational cognitive and the relational factors of trust (Kramer, 1999). It is noteworthy that even though in this type of work teams competency evaluations and ability attributions are considered to be the main predictor of trust, the participants in this study reported interpersonal relationship to have an equal and sometimes even a higher importance. Moreover, even if the existing literature considers different types of trust as being independent from one another (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005; Kramer, 1999) the present findings indicate that the two types were seen as evolving from one another with relation-based trust being constantly considered as the higher, more complex form. This finding can be explained by the characteristics of the studies' participants groups. Team members were not complete strangers when they received the task. Although most of them didn't really know each other and had no common working experience, they all belonged to a larger group of psychology students and shared similar interests and identity. This can explain why relation-based trust is given a higher importance although the literature suggests that in work groups ability- and competence-based trust is more preeminent (Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005; Kramer, 1999). Another aspect worth considering is the fact that even in organizations, the members of temporary project teams are people who do not really know each other or share previous experience in working together, but they in fact share a common identity, being members of a professional group or of the same organization. Reflecting upon this it would be useful to verify which characteristics of the trust dynamics described in the present research could become relevant in organizational settings. Another direction of further research should investigate the importance of cultural factors in explaining the interaction between the two types of trust. The analysis of these influences on trust-type formation and their relationship could present several implications for trust understanding and group work design.

The dynamics of trust formation underlined in the findings of this study are also consistent with research on trust in temporary groups (Meyerson, Weick, & Kramer, 2006) that shows that trust forms very quickly at the beginning of the interaction in order to manage issues of vulnerability, uncertainty, risk and expectations, issues that become relevant as soon as the temporary system begins to function. Not only did the data succeed to illustrate this pattern of trust formation, but also the most saturated codes were those related to vulnerability, risk, expectations, and uncertainty. On the other hand, even though research in this area states that in temporary systems trust is less about relating than doing and the focus is on cognitive and action forms and less on the interpersonal form (Meyerson, Weick, & Kramer, 2006), data obtained shows that the interpersonal, relationship based form is constant and is even seen as a higher form of matured trust. Subsequent research should address differences and relations between these forms of trust in order to better understand their dynamic.

Our findings show that trust emerges in a context of perceived vulnerability and risk created by teams' characteristics and their task. Trust development process consists of phases of information processing in order to get to know the other members. The data highlighted both implicit and explicit information processing. Implicit processing was evident in two forms. Firstly, initial trust appeared to have an effect both on assessing the character of the other members and on trust formation. Secondly, implicit evaluations appeared to be derived from group interactions and group overall experience.

The implicit character of information processing in trust formation has not been sufficiently addressed in research literature. The main efforts of trust conceptualizations have focused mainly on the explicit aspects of this phenomenon (processes and contents). Studies that have addressed the implicit processes in trust formation are very few and isolated. Although research greatly supports the concept of dispositional trust, in organizational researched it has received very little attention (Kipnis, 1996, as cited in Kramer, 1999; Burns, Mearns, & McGeorge, 2006). As more and more conceptualizations tend to consider trust to be an attitude, implicit processes should become a constant preoccupation. Nevertheless, even though social psychology research has already shown that attitudes present both an explicit and an implicit dimension and that the implicit dimension has a great role in predicting future behavior (e.g., Fazio, 1990; Greenwald & Banaji, 1995) these results have not been considered when studying trust. Another type of implicit processing evidenced in this study refers to implicit knowledge derived from group interaction and experience. This is also a subject acknowledged by researchers but only partially addressed in research regarding rule based trust that underlies the importance of socialization into the structure of rules (Kramer, 1999). The frequency of the implicit category codes identified in the data we collected shows that implicit processes can no longer be ignored if a complete understanding of this phenomenon is pursued.

Finally, our approach emphasizes the dynamic character of trust formation. Not only do the findings support the existing research that shows that trust develops in time, continuously (Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005), but they also indicate that phases of trust formation overlap and interact with one another describing a spiral type process. Based on the present study, we support the conceptualization of trust as an emergent state of the group (Curseu & Schruijer, 2010; Curseu, 2006; Pitariu, 2008) which contributes to the specification of the role of trust for group processes and of the mechanism by which trust can influence team process outcomes.

Emergent states are defined as interrelated team properties with a dynamic nature that result from interpersonal interactions among team members (Curseu, 2006; Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001). This perspective allows for a certain level of integration of the different perspectives on trust that the present results pertain to: predispositions, attitudes or processes. The emergent state perspective is consistent with all of these, as attitudes in teams are considered to be emergent states (Curseu, 2006). By their dynamic nature and ever changing character, emergent states focus exactly on the process of attitude formation and evolution. This focus on the process allowed us go beyond the way the participants in the present study defined trust and identify the way different variables were reported to interact with each other in building the trust experience in the researched teams.

If we take into consideration both aspects of dynamics (emergent state of the group) and implicit processes, it becomes clear that measuring trust by traditional questionnaires becomes limited. A different approach based on both explicit and implicit processes can prove beneficial to both theory and practice.

This study has several limitations that should be discussed in order to better assess the relevance of the presented findings. This is a study of a controversial and complex topic, and it was conducted using a relatively small number of participants from a specific group. As a result, our findings are at this stage limited to the population of female psychology students in their final year, participating in group projects during the Organizational Psychology course. Until we will further extend the research, the findings should be applied only to similar contexts and similar teams. As we acknowledge the possible implications of participants groups' characteristics, we intend to invest further efforts in the replication and validation of these findings. Present data provide a coding scheme that can be used in analyzing relevant experiences from different work groups and different populations. At this point, the results illustrate only the understanding of the study's participants related to the entire process of trust formation in groups and is limited to the conscious, explicit elements of this process while, as our data showed, there are implicit processes that could not be addressed as they are not subject to reflection and verbalization. In order to address the implicit processes in trust formation other research designs should be used. On the other hand, the methodology we used proved to be suited to address all the difficulties underlined in the research literature on trust and the suggestions made in recent research related to trust measurement.


Different analyses of trust theory and research have emphasized the fact that despite the integrative efforts, this domain remains controversial and diffuse (Shapiro, 1987). Solutions that have been proposed in order to overcome this situation underline the importance of studying trust in specific contexts and of grounding trust research in the everyday experiences and language of the participants (McKnight, et al., 1995). This study, based on grounded theory methodology, examined perceptions of real people referring to real group situations and used their wordings to develop a more comprehensive view on how trust manifests in student work teams. Thus, it is in line with some recent efforts to apply grounded theory approaches to trust development in different contexts (Wietoff & Lewicki, 2005; Thom & Campbell, 1997). The results contribute to a better understanding of trust development in student work groups and allowed us to derive a conceptual model on trust in this specific context. Although the present findings integrate some existing conceptualizations they also emphasize two major aspects that have received less attention in the research literature.

The first aspect is related to the need for studying both implicit and explicit information processing when trust formation processes are concerned. The second aspect refers to the dynamic character of trust formation. Although linear trust development has been addressed in literature, the data we collected emphasized a spiral type of dynamic which is consistent with approaches that conceptualize trust as an emergent state of the group. Trust can therefore be seen as a psychological process closely related to other emergent states in work teams, such as cohesion and team cognition, and also related to group identity formation (Pitariu, 2008).

The grounded theory approach allowed us to investigate types of experiences and aspects of trust (patterns of trust development, need for permanent evaluations and indicators of implicit processing) that might not have been anticipated and therefore would have been difficult to identify and address in a quantitative survey research.

Further efforts are needed to replicate and validate these findings, and to refine the model we have derived. Also, future research should address questions related to different processes in trust and distrust formation and its relation to other emergent states and group processes.


This research was supported by The PN-II ID_1589 grant from The National Council for Scientific Research in Higher Education.


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Author affiliation:

Daniela ANDREI *, Catalina OTOIU, Ana-Stefania ISAILA, Adriana BABAN

Department of Psychology, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

* Corresponding author:


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