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Distrust sharpens memory performance

Trust needs vigilance and a query of constrasts




Trust may impede our memory performance, whereas distrust sharpens details requested for any reliable report. Responsible for this phenomenon is an automatism within our information process which makes us focus on similarities when we communicate trustfully, blurring by the way differences in content and details, though. In distrustful settings on the contrary we “steer” towards these contrasts automatically. Contrasts which define the relevance of a testimony or a report. That´s the result of an actual publication by Harvard University.


Based on nine single studies the researchers have come to the following conclusion: the precision of our memory performance depends on various factors – neglected so far have been trust and distrust, two parameters omnipresent in social everyday life.

Posten/Gino, “How Trust and Distrust Shape Perception and Memory“ in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2021, 121 (1), 43-58.




From the practice:

Trust is blind – an old saying has been confirmed once again scientifically, at least when it comes to our memory performance. Who communicates in trustful situations without any countermeasures has to be aware of risking accuracy – accuracy which is desperately needed for any cause per se and the people involved.

Certainly that does not mean to skip trust just to get useful testimonies and reports in meetings, negotiations, committees or at court. Having said that I´d like to share with you two concrete recommendations:

  1. Please question everything directly during the talk which appears in Spanish.

Don´t think of permanent controls or behaving like a paranoid. Think of an alert mind who wants to clarify ambiguities, superficialities, potential misunderstandings etc. particularly where trust is given and where you therefore never would have thought to question anything otherwise.

  1. Ask intentionally for contrasts. So ask colleagues, peers or subordinates not that much “What has happened?” but “What is different to the normal situation? What has happened in contrast to the way we had it before?”. In proceeding like this you may bring together the best of two worlds: You can expect more precise statements AND do not destroy the relationship of trust you have invested in for so long so intensely.


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