Gender differences in trust dynamics: Women trust more than men following a trust violation

After a violation in trust, women are more likely to regain trust in a transgressor due to higher interest in maintaining a relationship.



Trust is a critical factor in professional relationships, with potential impacts on day-to-day office dynamics and project cooperation as well as larger-scale issues such as salary and contract negotiations. Previous research has focused primarily on how trust changes and recovers following a violation and on what actions transgressors can take to repair relationships following a trust violation. However, limited research has investigated how gender dynamics influence this behavior. In this paper, the authors conduct three experiments investigating how gender may affect trust and relationships, particularly whether gender impacts how resilient a person’s trust is (such as, in how likely men and women are to lose or regain trust) following a betrayal in trust. Experiments are conducted either through a financially motivated game involving trust in a simulated counterpart, or a written scenario involving a purchase made with an untrustworthy vendor.


Across three experiments, the author shows that women care more about maintaining relationships than men, meaning that following a violation in trust, women are less likely to lose trust in the transgressor and more likely to repair the relationship.

  • Following a trust violation, trust substantially declined for both male and female participants. However, women are more likely to trust the counterpart following a violation than men, with 22% of women displaying trusting behaviors versus 9% of men.
  • Women are more likely to trust their counterpart following repeated trust violations than men, with 66% of women displaying trusting behaviors versus 48% of men. 
    • Men and women do not differ in their initial trust of  a business counterpart. However,  after the counterpart commits a trust violation and then apologizes, women are significantly more trusting than men are in the same scenario. 
    • After experiencing a trust violation, women display higher levels of relational investment (that is, willingness to invest in their relationships) than men do. However, in situations in which a trust violation does not occur, gender does not impact people’s levels of relational investment.

Concern for preserving relationships causes women to be more willing than men to maintain trust following a betrayal. The authors argue that these findings about women’s comparatively resilient trust may reveal how women are disadvantaged in workplaces where their tendency to trust others after violations occur may make them appear gullible, and also may reveal how women can thrive in collaborative workplaces, where trust is an asset.



In Study 1, 196 students (58% female) at a large East Coast university participated in a repeated trust game designed to measure changes in trust over time. Participants believed they would be playing several rounds of a game with a randomly selected counterpart. However, all participants played against a computer-simulated counterpart. Participants were informed that they would receive $6 in each round, which they could pass to their counterpart or keep. If they passed the $6 to their counterpart, the money would be tripled to $18. The counterpart could then keep the $18 or pass half of the money ($9) back to the player. 
In the first 4 rounds, the counterparts returned half of their money to the player, building trustworthy behavior. In rounds 5-6, the counterpart kept the whole endowment. In round 7, trust was measured by observing participant behavior in deciding whether or not to pass the $6 to the counterpart.

In Study 2, 143 students (45% female) at a large East Coast university participated in a similar repeated trust game as Study 1. However, in rounds 1-3, counterparts returned no money to participants. Before round 4, counterparts sent a message to participants apologizing for their behavior, and returned half of the endowment in rounds 4-6. In round 7, participant behavior was recorded.

In Study 3, 532 Amazon Mechanical Turk workers completed surveys evaluating levels of relational investment (the degree to which an individual invested in their relationships with others). Then, participants read a scenario where they were in charge of purchasing office equipment for their company. Participants were randomly assigned to a “trust violation” condition or a control condition. Participants read that their company was interested in purchasing refurbished computers. The “trust violation” condition, participants discovered they purchased faulty computers. The supplier then apologized and delivered functioning computers in a following shipment.  The participants’ degree of trust in the supplier was recorded. In the control condition, no such trust violation occurred (the computers were functional) and trust was recorded before and after the computer shipments. 

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