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. 1/2 |


Previous studies have shown a correlation between low self-esteem, loneliness, and social connectedness (McWhirter, 1997). These are factors that play a role in trust. Is there a specific correlation between trust and self-esteem? Connections have been made between the two, but there has been no specific research showing how this relationship is significant, though some studies indicate that it is (McWhirter, 1997). The purpose of this study was to find the correlation between self-esteem and willingness to trust in a small undergraduate college setting. The hypothesis was that there would be a significant correlation between self-esteem and willingness to trust. The participants were chosen randomly from all enrolled students at Huntington University. Surveys were distributed to these subjects by hand and through email. These participants, approximately 116 in total, were primarily Caucasian, and from middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds. The measures for this study were chosen from a number of previously published self-esteem and trust surveys. The results of the study supported the research hypothesis: a significant correlation was found between self-esteem and a person’s willingness to trust.

Successful interpersonal relationships need a feeling of connectedness and trust. Previous studies have shown a correlation between low self-esteem, loneliness, and social connectedness and trust (McWhirter, 1997). As both trust and self-esteem are common factors in successful relationships, looking at these variables, we see that a number of studies have been done on trust and its different components as well as studies done on self-esteem. A number of studies have also been conducted that show connectedness between the two variables. The hypothesis of the current research is that different levels of self-esteem will affect the ability to trust others, and the willingness to trust.

Trust has been found to be subdivided into categories. Trust is defined as a person’s willingness to share personal information with another person. Johnson-George and Swap (1982) studied the validity of the Specific Interpersonal Trust Scale (SITS). The study included 435 participants and required them to take a survey compiled by a board of researches. The trust factors that emerged the most from the SITS were those of general trust, emotional trust, reliability, dependability, and physical trust. The factors common to both men and women were those of emotional trust and reliability. Examining the depth of the correlation between trust and reliability and the aspects of emotional trust, they hypothesized that the reason that reliability seemed to play a bigger role was because reliability might be a preliminary trust factor within relationships whereas emotional trust might be a factor further removed in the development of relationships, showing that the rate of development of the relationship is a potential determining factor in the level of trust.

Trust is viewed in various ways, but most prominently divided into different categories of general trust (anyone) or interpersonal trust (close relationships). According to Couch, Adams, and Jones (1996) trust is primarily looked at as trust towards people in everyday situations, and trust involved with intentional relationships. Trusting people in general is perceived by past experiences with people in certain groups or a specific individual. This particular study contained a sample of 1,229 students that were split into seven different groups. The mean age of the sample was 19-23 years old with the majority of the participants being females. Trust is difficult to measure because of the various levels of trust that is displayed at different points in relationships, but is normally measured based on specific relationships; this study was validated for the measure of relational trust. As hypothesized, people were able to trust those they were in a relationship. The study was not able to accurately measure the other type of trust, global trust.

Social relationships contain many components that revolve around trust. Frost, Stimpson, and Maughan (1978) studied power, control, affection, inclusion, self-esteem, and trust. Power was one of the main factors and has previously been defined as having direct impacts on social relationships. Power and trust were then hypothesized to be directly correlated. The participants were taken from Brigham Young University with a sample size of 59 undergraduate students. Seven groups were made with eight to ten students in each group, one group having six. Each group completed various surveys and questionnaires. To obtain validity, the questionnaires and surveys were completed at the end of the semester so that there was ample time to form relationships with the people in the group that involve power and trust, Frost, Stimpson, and Maughan results show that a person who is “trusted” is someone who is influential in social situations, has internal control, but also does not have the need to control others, giving those individuals a sense of respect. People who are trusted also have a higher sense of self-esteem and is not limited to his own influence, but is open to other’s opinions as well.

Another component of trust is self-verification. Further, commitment is found to be related to self-verification. According to Burke and Stets (1999) commitment is a very important part of social life. The participants consisted of 286 couples out of a nonrandomized sample of 574 couples from Washington State. All couples were currently in their first three years of marriage. The mean ages of the participants were 24-26 years old, mostly. Surveys were administered as well as a few personal counseling sessions to gather qualitative data in addition to the quantitative data. Researchers discovered that trust is an important mechanism in the development of self-verification in which brings about commitment. It was also discovered that depression and distress reduces trust in a spouse and self-esteem and mastery increase trust (Burke & Stets, 1999).

Self-esteem is another component of interpersonal relationships that is vital social functioning. Self-esteem is defined as whether someone views themselves in a positive or negative way and displays confidence in their ability, credibility, value, and discernment. Self-esteem also reflects how that person thinks others view these qualities. McWhirter (1997) studied loneliness and its relation to self-esteem and learned resourcefulness, looking at the connection between self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. The research hypothesized a connection between loneliness and a lack of ability to maintain close and intimate relationships. Considering the factors of self-esteem and loneliness, it seems likely that this inability to maintain relationships is connected to self-esteem. This study, conducted through surveys to 625 college students, showed statistically significant correlations between self-esteem and the factors of global loneliness, intimate loneliness, and social loneliness. All of these correlations were negative, indicating that the lower the self-esteem, the higher the levels of loneliness, indicating a connection between self-esteem and the presence of interpersonal relationships.

Trust and self-esteem are vital to social functioning and social functioning has an impact on the mental health of all individuals. Research found by Williams, & Galliher (2006) display the relationship that social engagement and social functioning, as a whole, impact the individual’s psychological well-being. Participants, in a non-randomized sample, included 272 undergraduate college students enrolled in introductory level psychology courses. The participants were mostly white females, between the ages of 18-21 and from primarily middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds. They were split into ten groups of 20 students and asked to complete surveys within a 30-40 minute time period. The research found strong correlations in social support, social competence, social connectedness, and psychological health. The main factor of social connectedness was a prominent predictor of depression and self-esteem. Self-esteem is an important part of social functioning which greatly impacts the psychological well-being of an individual. Williams and Galliher believe that their research regarding social skills and competence is very important for social and psychological well-being.

Correlations specifically between trust and self-esteem have also been researched as well. A study was conducted by Ellison and Firestone (1974), consisting of a 120 female college students, divided into high and low level self-esteem groups based on survey results were subjected to tapes of potential disclosure targets and then given surveys on their feelings concerning potential disclosure. The results showed that those with lower self-esteem expressed more feelings of trust to the high status, reflective style disclosure targets, indicating that the components are linked and that self-esteem plays a role in level of trust. The person must trust themselves in their judgment of who to trust but also accept themselves before they take on the prospect of asking another to. After administering four surveys and running data to process the correlations of the responses of the 101 participants, the results of Brown and Lindskold’s study (1937) noted that the correlations between other trust and self-esteem and other trust and self-trust are significant in both males and females. It appeared, for females particularly, that the level of self-trust and other trust was affected by their level of self-esteem, showing a relationship between a person’s willingness to trust and their self-esteem.

Self-esteem and trust have a very prominent relationship. Past research assures us that the connection does exist but fails to reveal its correlation (McWhirter, 1997). The purpose of the current study is to better understand this relationship lies within the depths of this correlation. People with lower self-esteem feel more trustworthy to the high status, reflective style, disclosure targets, indicating that self-esteem plays a role in trust (Ellison & Firestone, 1974). The relationship between self-esteem and trust is hypothesized to be a positive correlation meaning that with an increase in self-esteem, trust will also increase.

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