Using behavioural science to build trust
We live in a polarised world, rife with misinformation and disinformation, where trust in government is plummeting. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in building trust within our communities... So how can we use Behavioural Science to build trust?

We live in a polarised world, rife with misinformation and disinformation, where trust in government is plummeting 1. In the United States, we have seen how a declining trust in political processes can rock democracy to its core.

Now, more than ever, we need to invest in building trust within our communities – trust in government and processes, trust in the NHS, trust in scientific advice. As the world prepares to embark on a historic mass vaccination drive against COVID-19, we need to keep trust at the centre of
our communications if we are to achieve population level behaviour change.

So how can we use behavioural science to build trust within our communities?

Whilst economic theory might suggest that trust in strangers is irrational, we know that as human beings we trust, often those we have never met, and trust and trustworthiness are an integral aspect to our societies worldwide. Take for example one of the key tools of persuasion, reciprocity, a basic element of how we perceive our relationships with others and how we respond to others’ behaviours. In fact, trust is complex psychology, delving into our underlying dispositions, intergroup processes, and cognitive expectations (Evans & Krueger, 2009).

Engage communities to co-produce messages and leverage community trust

Community attachment helps to build governmental trust (Soto-Mota, Macchia & Gómez 2020). Co-producing messages with our communities not only increases trust but the salience of the message itself. When localised and created in partnership, these messages will appeal in a more intuitive way. Leveraging audiences’ Reference Networks (their family, friends and peers), community members who enjoy high levels of confidence and developing this content and messaging using concepts of reciprocity and cooperation will lead to strengthened relationships.

Address uncertainty and combat mis/disinformation with facts

It’s integral we address uncertainty with transparent and clear communications. It’s also important we address uncertainty as quickly as possible. Building trust in a pandemic is certainly no easy task. Being consistent and considering source credibility can combat mis/disinformation. We should aim to appeal to our audiences’ sense of social identity and culture and reinforce messages with validators who are trusted voices for our communities.

The importance of message framing

As human beings, we make several decisions instinctively, intuitively. We use mental shortcuts (heuristics) to make many of these decisions which in turn lead to us to be susceptible to several cognitive biases. As communicators, it is important to be aware of these biases and how it impacts our messages to our audiences – especially when building trust. Could a message be perceived completely differently to how it was intended by the sender? Yes. In our newsletter, Cut to the BS, we showcase a cognitive bias in each issue. Frame messages to overcome biases and test to see
which resonates more deeply with audiences, and which builds trust.


To find out more about how our behavioural and data science approach can support your marketing, communications and PR programmes, please contact us at contact@lynnpr.co.uk

This article was written by Shayoni Lynn, Director at Lynn PR.


1 https://www.politico.eu/article/survey-trust-in-british-government-dropped-to-record-low/


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