Scientists are exploring the genetic components of trust.

Trust is a fundamental element of human interaction, acting as the glue in relationships, the foundation of economic dealings, and the bedrock of social harmony.

Without trust, businesses collapse, political parties fail, and conflicts erupt, whether on a personal or international scale, resulting in broken hearts and lives lost. 

Trust is also partly inherited. 

In a new study, Dr Nathan Kettlewell and Professor Agnieszka Tymula found that approximately 33 per cent of the variation in trust among individuals can be traced back to genetics.

The researchers had to bring together elements from the realms of economics, psychology, and neuroscience to delve into how inherited behavioural traits impact life's outcomes. 

Their research, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, uses studies of twins to dissect the genetic and environmental contributions to trust.

“Twin studies are a powerful tool for disentangling genetic and environmental influences on complex traits,” says Dr Kettlewell.

The approach allowed the researchers to quantify the genetic contribution to trust, while also acknowledging the significant role of life circumstances in fostering trust.

The findings suggest that while genetic factors contribute around 33 per cent to the variation in levels of trust observed among individuals, being older, in better health and married or in a de facto relationship also increase trust.

The study engaged 1,120 Australian twins to investigate trust dynamics through survey data and games to gauge general trust and trust in political figures. 

“Trust is a trait that is difficult to define and measure, and it can also change across different domains,” says Professor Tymula. 

“Our findings suggest that while genetic factors contribute to the variation in levels of trust observed among individuals, life circumstances also increase trust,” said Dr Kettlewell.

The experts say this insight into the genetic underpinnings of trust opens new pathways for research and practical applications aimed at enhancing trust, cooperation, and social wellbeing.