Trust others, live longer!

Posted on under Today's research

Do you trust other people? Trusting may prolong your life. According to a new study people who trust others live longer and those who do not risk trusting die sooner. This fascinating study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Trust in other people is sometimes described as the ‘glue’ that keeps societies together. The new findings based on nationally representative survey data from the United States shows that this important resource does even more—it literally keeps you alive.

What the researchers say: “Whether or not you trust other people, including strangers, makes a difference of about 10 months in terms of life expectancy,” according to the lead researcher.

It also makes a difference whether you live in a place where a large percentage of the population are distrusters. “In those contexts,” he added, “your risk of dying is higher than in places with more community trust.”

The study is based on data material from the US General Social Survey (GSS) that allowed the researchers to assess US Americans’ attitudes, their levels of trust and socioeconomic conditions. Since the survey data can be linked to the national mortality database (NDI), it was possible to estimate whether respondents’ perceived trust predicts their risk of dying. The study sample included 25, 270 respondents who were surveyed between 1978 and 2010.

The results are in line with earlier research that showed that trust was essential to properly engage with others. As compared to distrusters, trusters may be better able to mobilize social support from network contacts and their wider communities. Trust reduces friction in social interactions, and diminishes the psychosocial stress that contributes to health problems and shortened lives.

The advantages of high levels of trust were similar for men and women and persisted even when accounting for socioeconomic conditions such as education and income. “Given the protective effects of trust for mortality,” say the researchers, “a decline in trust (as seen across the US over past decades) may pose an underestimated public health concern.”

So, what? Trust is not just declining in the US, or only just in the political sphere. Alicia and I have noticed a decline in trust in almost all the industries that we work in. Other researchers have noticed this too. For example, the level of trust employees have in supervisors and corporate leaders generally has been falling off a cliff. Partly this is because businesses seem not to care anymore about people—the rush to get rid of them in favor of AI and machines is not exactly calculated to increase trust.

This research shows that this lack of trust is dangerous to our individual mental and physical health. It also adds to the stress level that is constantly rising and which, itself, is a serious health hazard (see “Stress leads to smaller brains” above).

Trust won’t increase until we take the time to find out what we have in common rather than what separates us, until we have a sense of community that is real and not digital and until we learn to communicate in ways that humans were designed to communicate. Most importantly we must not be afraid to tell people what we really need of them, including the boss.