Self-Esteem and Trust: Correlation Between Self-Esteem and Willingness to Trust in Undergraduate Students

By Ashlee N. Weining & Elizabeth L. Smith
2012, Vol. 4 No. 08 | pg. 2/2 |



Random sampling was used to select undergraduate students enrolled at a small, rural university. The participants were selected through randomization, both by use of a computer generated list from a list of all students on campus and randomized distribution of surveys by hand. The total number of participants was n = 116. The age range of the subjects were 17 to 27. These participants were primarily Caucasian, and from middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds. The subjects were 57.8% females and 42.2% males.


Consent forms and a survey, separated into two parts, measuring self-esteem and trust were distributed. Self-esteem was measured in part one, operationally defined as whether someone viewed themselves in a positive or negative way and displayed confidence in their ability, credibility, value, and discernment; self-esteem also reflected how that person thinks others view these qualities. Trust was measured in part two, operationally defined as a person’s willingness to share personal information with another person. The self-esteem survey included 21 questions; ten from the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) and 11 were taken from the edited version of Coopersmith Self-esteem Inventory (Ryden, 1978). The Trust portion included 16 questions revised from Johnson-George, and Swap (1982) study.


Two methods of survey administration were used. A random sampling website selected students from within the list of students on campus. The list of all the students was obtained through the university website. Students chosen by this sampling method received an email request to take part in the study after being located via the universities database (the student directory lists all of the student’s email addresses). The email asked the students to take the survey, re-attach it to the email, and send it back to the researchers. The email also included consent the form to be read and signed before continuing the study. The researchers used the campus mailing system to mail a hard copy of the survey to the subject if an email reply was not received within three days. Due to time constraints and the length of time it took to receive responses a second for of random sampling was also used. Surveys were randomly distributed by hand to people with in the dorms during open dorm hours.


When analyzing this data the first course of action after entering the data into SPSS, was to run a reverse-scaling on the variables to account for questions that were reverse coded. All of the answers to the survey were scored on a 4 point scale, ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree (see Appendix A).

An inner-reliability test was run on the self-esteem and trust data to find any questions that did not reliably fit with the other questions. Two questions were eliminated from the self-esteem portion and 1 from the trust portion. After these questions were eliminated, the remain questions were added together to comprise a total self esteem and total trust scores for the subjects survey responses collectively as well as averages. These scores indicate the overall self-esteem and trust levels of the sample group. Total self-esteem M = 40.974, sd = 7.599 and total trust M = 24.940, sd = 6.075.

Both a t-test and a one way Anova were analyzed to asses if the means of this data were statistically different in anyway. A statistical difference of t = 3.899, df = 114, p < .001 and F(1,114)=15.20, p < .001 were discovered. To calculate these, the scores for the self esteem data were dived into high or low self-esteem categories. Low self-esteem was labeled as a score in the 50 to 75 range and high self-esteem was labeled as a score in the 0 to 49 range. In the high self-esteem range n = 45 and in the low self esteem range n = 71.

A Pearson’s correlation was analyzed through a Bivariate Correlate looking for a relationship on the linear level between these variables, the results were r = .463, p < .001. A scatter plot was done for the averages of the total average self-esteem scores and trust scores. Two outliers were noticed, one with very low self-esteem and low trust levels and another with higher self esteem and higher trust levels.

Discussion and Conclusion

The current study hypothesized that self-esteem and the willingness to trust would have a positive correlation, meaning that when self-esteem was high, willingness to trust would also be high in an individual. The data collected supported the given hypothesis.

Previous studies have shown a correlation between low self-esteem, loneliness, and social connectedness in relation to trust (McWhirter, 1997). This previous research supports this research in the aspect of the existing relationship between self-esteem and trust. For social functioning to be effective the components of self-esteem and trust should be better understood, which was the aim of the current researchers. Self-esteem and the willingness to trust do have a significant, positive relationship. The study showed that when low self-esteem is displayed, confidence in self and in others is also low making the willingness to trust someone less evident. On the opposite side, higher self-esteem means that there is more confidence and self-worth. This makes the willingness to trust someone higher because strength of disappointment, if said trust is broken, can be handled through the individual with high self-esteem.

Limitations of this study include; sample size, sample group, self-reported data, and time restraints. The sample size was smaller because of the limited number of students that attend the University and were willing to participate. The willingness to participate was lower because of the timing of the study being at the end of the semester. At the end of a college semester most undergraduates are even busier with projects and preparation for finals. The sample group was a limitation because of the lack of diversity in the way of race, socioeconomic background, and primarily Christian religious affiliation. With any study, self-reported data may be unreliable because the researchers are unsure of the honesty in individuals answers. Time was a limitation because there was not adequate time to get as many participants as the researchers would have hoped.

The current researchers would like to target a few specific areas such as; age, and any differences that may occur due to gender and the given topic. The researchers would like to get faculty and staff of the University to participate in the study to find if middle-aged adults produce differences in the relationship of self-esteem and willingness to trust. The researchers would also want to find the difference, if there are any, in gender. Do males have more self-esteem and trust others easier because they tend to not be as emotionally involved? By targeting these areas the researchers will be able to gain a better understanding of how self-esteem and the willingness to trust relate to each other.


Brown, R.C., & Lindskold, S. (1973). Correlations between trust, self-esteem, sociometric choice and internal-external control. Psychological Reports, 32(1), 739-743.

Burke, P., & Stets, J. (1999). Trust and commitment through self-verification. Social Psychology Quarterly, 62(4), 347-360.

Couch, L.L., Adams, J.M., & Jones, W.H. (1996). The assessment of trust orientation. Journal of Personality Assessment, 67(2), 305-323.

Ellison, C.W., & Firestone, I.J. (1974). Development of interpersonal trust as a function of self esteem, target status, and target style. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29(5), 655-663.

Frost, T., Stimpson, D.V., Maughan, M.R.C. (1978). Some correlates of trust. The Journal of Psychology, 99(1), 103-108.

Johnson-George, C., & Swap, W.C. (1982). Measurement of specific interpersonal trust: Construction and validation of a scale to assess trust in a specific other. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(6), 1306-1317.

McWhirter, B. (1997). Loneliness, learned resourcefulness, and self-esteem in college students. Journal of Counseling & Development, 75(July/August), 460-468.

Williams, K., & Galliher, R. (2006). Predicting depression and self-esteem from social connectedness, support, and competence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(8), 855-874.

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