Cognitive trust

Posted: March 13, 2005 at 3:46 pm in cognition, people

[Bonus post that I wrote at the airport last night]

I liked this quote from Emotional Design:

“Cooperation relies on trust. For a team to work effectively each individual needs to be able to count on team members to behave as expected. Establishing trust is complex, but it involves, among other things, implicit and explicit promises, then clear attempts to deliver, and, moreover, evidence. When someone fails to deliver as expected, whether or not trust is violated depends upon the situation and upon where the blame falls.” (p.140)

This would seem to be the team equivalent of cognitive subroutines. I can imagine that analogous negotiation and trust-building is happening within the swirl of our subconscious as we navigate through the world. Stereotypes that seem to work well get reinforced, and encoded into cognitive subroutines. Assumptions that prove to be wrong are trusted less the next time, with more restrictions placed on their activation conditions.

It’s interesting to me because it provides an obvious extension of the cognitive subroutines theory to interpersonal interactions, at least in a team sense. I’ve talked about team building before (and actually say something very similar to Norman’s quote), and part of what I think makes a good team is that we can offload tasks onto other people; as I put it in that post, “my teammates trust me to deal with fixing the bugs; once it’s reported to me, they forget about it and move on.” A team can achieve more than the sum of its parts because each can farm out processing to others who are in a better position to handle a given situation.

It’s the cognitive equivalent of labor specialization. If I’m good at software, and my coworker isn’t, then it makes sense for them to ask me to perform a software task that they need to do, because I’ll do it in far less time than them. In return, my coworker who is better in lab may run an experiment for me. Both of us stick to what we’re good at, and we can leverage our expertise to make everybody more productive and efficient.

The other analogy that I like is that if we treat the brain as a set of cognitive subroutines that can call each other, then there’s no reason not to think of other people as subroutines that we can also call upon. When we first start working with another person, we don’t quite know what their API is or what their capabilities are, but as we learn to trust and respect them, we can learn to call upon them with little more overhead than we do a subroutine in our own head. It’s kind of a bizarre concept, but it’s the first step in the steps towards a Global Brain if it works.

2 Responses to “Cognitive trust”

  1. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Tracing influence through the network || March || 2008 Says:

    [...] outcomes. Perhaps our networks can be modelled in the same way. This would play into my idea of cognitive trust, where I suggest that once we trust other people enough, they’re just an extension of our own [...]

  2. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Intelligence in Google world || June || 2008 Says:

    [...] these ideas before, in posts on how we extend our cognitive subroutines to use external objects or even other people). Adding in the recognition that we have a limited capacity in our consciousness and in our memory [...]

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