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How to build trust

Today I came across a game that simulates how trust is built. The game is called the Evolution of Trust, and it starts by walking the player through a few scenarios playing a simple game:

You have one choice. In front of you is a machine: if you put a coin in the machine, the other player gets three coins – and vice versa. You both can either choose to COOPERATE (put in coin), or CHEAT (don't put in coin).

In this game, you run simulations against different characters: there are ones that always cooperate, ones that always cheat, and ones that copy your moves, and many more. The goal is to understand which character you should be irl to get the maximum benefit - should you be kind to others, lie all the time, or does it depend on the situation?

Halfway through the game, you realize that the copycat wins the vast majority of rounds and you realize that the golden rule is not only ethically good, but also mathematically optimal.

But this has a caveat, and requires the following criteria are met:

  1. Repeat interactions: Trust depends on the relationship between 2 people. If you won't see the other party again, you might not feel as bad treating them poorly.
  2. Both parties must benefit: If it's between you or someone else, the logical thing to do is to look out for yourself.
  3. Good communication: Sometimes people make mistakes and damage trust as a result. Communication is key to clearing up misunderstandings and preventing relationships from souring.

The author does a great job summarizing the takeaway from this quick lesson on game theory and trust, so I'll leave you with that.

If there's one big takeaway from all of game theory, it's this:

What the game is, defines what the players do. Our problem today isn't just that people are losing trust, it's that our environment acts against the evolution of trust.

That may seem cynical or naive – that we're "merely" products of our environment – but as game theory reminds us, we are each others' environment. In the short run, the game defines the players. But in the long run, it's us players who define the game.

So, do what you can do, to create the conditions necessary to evolve trust. Build relationships. Find win-wins. Communicate clearly...