Judging trustworthiness

Trust is one of the most important interpersonal concepts there is and analysis is fun. Therefore this post. Analogous to Eysenck’s breakdown of personality traits, I use the following analysis to help me feel out whether I trust a person:

Do I trust this person’s competence? (analogous to intelligence)
Do I trust their judgment? (psychoticism)
Do I trust their character? (conscientiousness)

Competence is, roughly speaking, my judgment of whether someone can actually accomplish their job. This capability breaks down further into training, experience, and talent. Generally, you need to check at least two of those boxes to get any real work done. This is mostly specific to the task.

Judgment is more difficult to describe, but I’ll give it a shot. This is our latent ability to sense the factors involved in a decision, weight them properly by salience and appropriateness, and to be self-conscious of how our biases and neuroses permeate our perceptions. I’ll call these discernment, maturity, and detachment, respectively. Again, you want to check at least two boxes out of three. (The latter is the most rare because it’s a sort of relaxed Zen solipsism mixed with Western empiricism that is difficult to reproduce.) These are all skills that can be improved with focus and practice but unfortunately our culture is biased against treating them as such (preferring to passively breed them out), so of the three overarching traits judgment is the least common and the strongest determinant of success.

Character is almost the same thing as conscientiousness, except it also matters how they feel about me (or our common group identity). There are three possible predispositions: friend, ally, and enemy. A friend can be trusted to hold an interest in my well-being and prefer mutually beneficial ends, an enemy can be trusted to hold an “interest” in my downfall and prefer mutually destructive ends, and an ally can be trusted to prefer maximum personal benefit irrespective of my outcome. There are a number of reasons a person might fall into each of these groups, whether nature, nurture, or our interpersonal history. Allies are the most common because most people don’t give a shit about you or your identity group. These are people you can do business with but who might rob you if they can get away with it.

Allies can be divided into three groups, according to the sort of social reciprocity they practice. These fall into three more camps: delayed, ideal, and predatory. The most common sort is delayed because this is the most primitive and emotional. If you do nice things for a normal person, they’ll eventually begin to like you and do things for you in return. But…because emotions are primitive and selfish, you’ll never get as much back as you put in. Ideal reciprocity is purposeful equivalent exchange—tit for tat. This attitude is like libertarianism: it’s ideologically driven and requires conscientiousness and dedication to realize, and it’s typically practiced by the same sorts of people. The predatory type is concerned with hacking more socially primitive people and exploiting their sense of social reciprocity for material gain. An easy example is the practice of giving gifts and bribes to people in order to sell something to their government or corporation.

So character can be broken down into predisposition and conscientiousness, and conscientiousness can be further broken down into focus and energy (as mentioned in previous posts).

To sum up:

Is this person trustworthy?

  1. Do I trust this person’s competence?
    1. Do they have the right training?
    2. Do they have enough experience?
    3. Are they naturally talented?
  2. Do I trust their judgment?
    1. Are they discerning?
    2. Are they mature?
    3. Are they detached?
  3. Do I trust their character?
    1. Is this person a friend, enemy, or ally?
    2. If they’re an ally, is this person neurotypical, aspergoid, or psychopathic?
    3. Are they reliable?
      1. Are they focused?
      2. Are they energetic?

There’s a sort of economic leveling effect involved when we prefer the company of trustworthy people, because everyone prefers the company of trustworthy people. Untrustworthy people are especially attracted to them. You can’t just up and decide to only associate with trustworthy people because trust is a form of capital—and anything with that kinda value is gonna cost you. This means that the most trustworthy people have to keep their circles of friends the tightest and be the most discriminating about who they spend their time, money, and talents on. The efficient strategy is to use this analysis to more precisely understand how people are trustworthy or untrustworthy, in which ways, and then lean on people who are underappreciated while hedging against risks.

About Aeoli Pera

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22 Responses to Judging trustworthiness

  1. mobiuswolf says:

    Huh. Just so.
    It doesn’t leave much to work with does it? My wife hates the tight circle, but she is outspoken about doing the right thing and therefore shunned. She naturally repels predators. :o)
    I’m just a hermit, I actively repel everyone.

    I think a willingness to learn/ open mind suffices regardless of 1&2, though I suppose it encompasses them. or maybe results from them?

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >Huh. Just so.
      It doesn’t leave much to work with does it?

      Hopefully that indicates a good method.

      >My wife hates the tight circle, but she is outspoken about doing the right thing and therefore shunned. She naturally repels predators. :o)

      That’s a good immune system. I’ll have to remember that if I ever become a useful person in real life.

      >I’m just a hermit, I actively repel everyone.

      Introversion has perks, like time to read books.


      >I think a willingness to learn/ open mind suffices regardless of 1&2, though I suppose it encompasses them. or maybe results from them?

      There are a couple of meanings to that term. One of them is psychoticism, the others aren’t really relevant here.

    • glosoli says:


      Your wife is ultra-high trustworthy, because a)she believes in doing the right thing, and b) she is outspoken about it, meaning there can be no doubt about what her view is.
      If she kept her views to herself, she would be playing the *social* game, and hence would be less trust worthy. Good for her, what a woman, a few tight friends is all one needs.

      I was surprised to see no mention of consistency in the OP. Or compatibility (generally in matters of morals/faith). There’s little point trusting someone with an entirely different set of morals as you, they’ll disappoint you sooner rather than later. Similarly there’s little point in trusting someone who is flaky, as when it comes to any sort of crunch, they won’t be there for you.

  2. Koanic says:

    *** Trustworthiness

    **** competence

    **** judgment

    **** character
    friend, enemy, or ally
    neurotypical, aspergoid, or psychopathic

    **** reliability

  3. Aeoli Pera says:

    I suspect that’s correlated with testosterone and inversely correlated with psychological solipsism.

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