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UA professor researches responses to trust breaching


Photo courtesy of Anthony Mongiello Photography

A UA professor found that people in an established relationship are more likely to give second chances than those who have never been in one.

The UA will be introducing Martin Reimann as an assistant professor of marketing in the spring. Reimann, alongside Oliver Schilke and Karen S. Cook, recently finished a research paper titled “Effect of Relationship Experience on Trust Recovery Following a Breach.”

Reimann said the research paper, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, is about how our responses to trust breaches depend on our relationship with whomever has breached that trust.

“This research shows that two mechanisms are relevant here: the control system and the automatic system,” he said, emphasizing that the two mechanisms are higher-order functions and that the way we respond — which mechanism we use — depends on how long we’ve known the person who has breached our trust.

According to the group’s findings, people are essentially going to be harder on someone who breaches their trust if there is no established relationship, but when an established relationship exists, they are going to be more forgiving and open to trusting again in the future.

“The main effect was that trust recovers better if it is breached later on,” said Schilke, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UCLA.

Along with everyday relationships, Schilke said, this research could be useful in the classroom with teacher and student relationships.

“I think it has certain implications for personal or intimate relationships,” Schilke said. “When class starts early in the quarter, you’d have to be careful not to breach trust. Relationships with students and a teacher in a class, people on a first date — they have to be very careful not to make mistakes. If you’re married for 30 years, you’re not so sensitive to trust problems.”

Reimann said their findings could lead to further exploration on the topic.

“There may be implications to more public policy questions,” Reimann said. “We haven’t explored those yet. One would be relations between us as ordinary citizens and governmental institutions — like what would happen if they breach our trust. It think it’s most relevant when you have interpersonal relationships.”

Mrinal Ghosh, head of the UA Department of Marketing, said Reimann’s research can function as a part of his teachings in the marketing classroom.

“With relationships between customers and companies, sometimes people have expectations that are not met,” Ghosh said. “We can call that breach. This line of work works well. I think Martin can bring and use these examples in class.”

According to Reimann, the project itself was critical because of its nature as a research paper.
“With the UA being a research university, it is important that we engage in research, and that’s what that paper does,” Reimann said. “It shows that we can do interdisciplinary research, and I think that’s what the university spends for and, hopefully, appreciates.”

Additionally, this research was meant to be multifaceted, Reimann said, adding that they used colleagues from different areas as a way to seek interdisciplinary cooperation between varying fields such as marketing, psychology, neuroscience and sociology.

Schilke also emphasized the diversity brought to their research.

“What is special about the study is [that] it is very interdisciplinary,” Schilke said. “I think I bring the theory. I think that’s a key aspect; a diverse group. This is still an issue in research these days, getting people from different fields together.”

Ghosh said the research may even be of interest in another department entirely.

“Basically, it can give us a better sense of how humans deal with each other, so it suggests to us what trust does when people recover from breaches,” Ghosh said. “I think clinical psychologists can take that and see how people can improve relationships.”

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