Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Betrayal motivation
What motivates betrayal of trust?
- 1 Overview
- 2 Understanding trust and betrayal through motivation
- 2.1 Biological mechanisms
- 2.2 Social needs and emotion
- 2.3 Agency and volition
- 2.4 Cognitive mechanisms - A process model of opportunistic betrayal
- 3 Applying betrayal motivation
- 4 Conclusion
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
When do you feel most vulnerable? In your interpersonal relationships? At work? When you are entrusted with commercially sensitive information? Do your friends know embarrassing and humiliating things about you, which would make you jump out of your skin if other people found out? Do you trust your friends to look after your interests, and not blab to others? Yet, what happens if they do? Do you instantly want to know why they did? Why would they break your trust, and betray you like this?
Trust, social relationships and betrayal are fundamental parts of everyday life - we are dependent on other people, and expect others to behave in particular ways (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2000). This article explores the psychological mechanics of betrayal, why someone might betray you and why you might betray someone. By learning about betrayal, you can be empowered to deal with its motivational causes and implications for trust.
The following key questions will be answered:
- What is trust, betrayal and motivation?
- Why is betrayal important?
- How do biological mechanisms influence betrayal?
- What theories underpin the betrayal of trust?
- What motivates a person to betray trust?
Defining trust and betrayal
While you likely have an implicit understanding of trust and betrayal, it is important you share a clear understanding of their definitions, as described in the present context.
Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, and Camerer (1998) define trust as an agreement between two parties where vulnerability (risk) is accepted, in return for positive and adaptive benefits from another. Trust can be further conceptualised as the willingness to accept risk, which can only occur if there is a vulnerability - if there is no risk involved then it is not trust (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995).
Trusting behaviours occur every day as they are socially productive,SSL/TLS).they occur between people in a friendship, in a relationship and between an employer and employee (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2000). Van Lange (2015) describes trust as the social glue in relationships, groups and societies. Trust relationships are not just between people but also occur every time you use Internet banking, which will not be discussed here, but it highlights how important trust can be (see
Betrayal describes the voluntary breaking of a trust agreement which has mutually known expectations, and violation of those expectations causes a potential for harm or psychological distress (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998). In effect, the outcome of the trust agreement is undesirable, it is not what was originally agreed and it is determined by another party (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2000). Betrayal is often accompanied by subjective feelings of anger, frustration and deep disappointment (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2000). Unlike trust, the definition of betrayal has not been the focus of extensive research despite its widespread vocabulary usage (Jackson, 2000). However, while the term itself has not been the subject of extensive research, behaviours where trust is violated has been studied (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998).
Deviant behaviours, where someone violates social norms is similar to betrayal in that trust agreements are also likely to be broken, but deviance is relatively impersonal compared to betrayal (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998). Betrayal and deviant behaviours are not mutually exclusive - deviant behaviours might violate trust (betrayal) but betrayal does not necessarily signify deviant behaviours. Elangovan and Shapiro (1998) propose a number of distinct types of betrayal:
- Accidental betrayal: the betrayal was not intentional and can be characterised as an error (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998).
- Intentional betrayal: the betrayal was inevitable, as the trust agreement was sought out as a proactive means of attaining an end (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998).
- Opportunistic betrayal: the trust agreement is voluntarily violated after reasoned analysis of a scenario (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998).
This chapter focuses on opportunistic betrayal because accidental betrayal could be caused by a wide variety of external events and intentional betrayal could be caused by narcissistic, machiavellianistic and psychopathological traits (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Whereas opportunistic betrayal focuses on the individual, and includes a reasoned process.
Betrayal could be better defined through further research as it does not account for intensity or impact. For example, a child might lick an ice-cream they were asked to hold by a parent licking the ice-cream could be considered a trivial betrayal by the child as the impact to the parent is minimal, but it is a betrayal nonetheless using the prior definition.
Understanding trust and betrayal through motivation
Motivation is a construct used to explain what initiates, maintains and ceases behaviour, it also looks at why it varies in intensity and why we do what we do (Reeve, 2014). Baumeister (2016) calls for a grand theory of motivation rather than focusing on situation-specific theories. In doing so, they present key components a general theory should emphasise, but also specific factors which should be addressed when the theory is applied to a particular topic to explain behaviour. When applied to a particular topic, the interactions between cognition, emotion, agency and other psychological processes and how they relate to basic drives and transitive states, should be explained. However, Reeve (2016) highlights concerns that a trait or basic drive should not be part of a motivational theory as they cannot self-activate and are a set-point—hunger is not a motivation but being hungry is a motivation. Reeve (2016) concedes a set-point or basic drive can be motivating if it changes over time, causing the organism to change.
Using the model proposed by Baumeister (2016), trust can be considered a trait or basic drive, where an individual seeks to maintain an optimal balance or equilibrium. Betrayal could be seen as a transitive state, with the purpose being to return the individual to a state of equilibrium. To resolve the concerns presented by Reeve (2016), while trust is described in terms of a basic drive, it is also an adaptive social process which provides different benefits to an individual over time (Rousseau et al., 1998). The key components and relationships of cognition, emotion, agency and other psychological processes are explored in subsequent sections, in relation to trust and betrayal (Baumeister, 2016).
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring neuropeptide and hormone found in the human body and other non-human animals (Meyer-Lindenberg, Domes, Kirsch, & Heinrichs, 2011). Taylor (2006) identifies oxytocin as having a central role in mediating social-approach and pro-social behaviours through affiliative neuro-circuitry. Taylor (2006) further characterises the role of oxytocin as the tend-and-befriend response, similar to the flight-or-fight response, but instead it facilitates attachment and affiliation in a stressful situation. When a stressful situation occurs, oxytocin is likely to motivate an individual to seek attachment and affiliation rather than running away. Taylor (2006) proposes, consistent with other basic needs where an individual is driven to satisfy that need, such as thirst, hunger and sexual drives, oxytocin drives and mediates the need for an adequate level of social relationships.
Elevated levels of oxytocin have been found to increase trust in humans (Kosfeld, Heinrichs, Zak, Fischbacher, & Fehr, 2005). This was empirically demonstrated by administering oxytocin via a nasal spray and having participants complete a social risk task (Kosfeld et al., 2005). The social risk task required participants to trust another person through interpersonal interactions. The research methodology used allowed the researchers to identify there was not a global increase in optimism causing increases in risky behaviours, but rather the participants became more trusting of the other individual in the risk task.
In addition to increasing trust in humans, oxytocin also plays a role in recovering from a betrayal of trust by facilitating pro-social behaviours and down-regulating signals from emotional brain structures, such as the amygdala (Baumgartner, Heinrichs, Vonlanthen, Fischbacher, & Fehr, 2008). This role of oxytocin helps by adapting to breaches of trust which is likely to have evolutionary importance as it stimulates social inclusion and approach, rather than social withdrawal and avoidance (Baumgartner et al., 2008). A recent study by Edelson et al. (2015) found oxytocin can induce overt compliance and influence over longer-term covert beliefs, possibly by reducing conflict in erroneous social information.
A meta-analysis by Bakermans-Kranenburg and Van Ijzendoorn (2013) studied the combined effectiveness of 19 clinical trials where intra-nasal oxytocin was administered to treat various psychological and behavioural disorders with social deficits. While the researchers cautioned trust increased in healthy participants, oxytocin's effects were moderated by the desire to belong to a social group, personality traits and childhood experience. However, for the harder to treat clinical disorders, there are promising results for oxytocin, especially for treating social deficits in autism spectrum disorder.
Using oxytocin to recover from a betrayal or motivate a betrayal
At the individual level, research suggests nasally administered oxytocin increases pro-social behaviours to either increase trust or recover from a betrayal (Kosfeld et al., 2005; Taylor, 2006). While intra-nasal oxytocin is available, it is not currently indicated for use to reduce undesired psychological states or treat psychological disorders (Therapeutic Goods Administration, 2016). Despite promising research, long-term clinical trials are required to determine appropriate usage and treatment schedules (Bakermans-Kranenburg & Van Ijzendoorn, 2013).
At the extreme end, if oxytocin is naturally occurring (Meyer-Lindenberg et al., 2011), its presence drives and increases trusting social behaviours (Kosfeld et al., 2005; Taylor, 2006), it increases overt compliance and influences long-term behaviour (Edelson et al., 2015) and it can be effectively delivered through an airborne mechanism (Bakermans-Kranenburg & Van Ijzendoorn, 2013), then it could be weaponised to alter mental states (Dando, 2009).
Social needs and emotion
Social production and functions theory combines needs, goals, resources and behaviour to achieve socially adaptive responses to fulfill overall well-being (social needs; Steverink & Lindenberg, 2006). These complex social needs of trust can be demonstrated by the ageing process; young children have no choice but to trust parents or caregivers whereas teenagers and adults can form their own trust agreements. Trust can be conceptualised as a general mechanism to gain positive and adaptive benefits from another individual to improve their situation (Rousseau et al., 1998). However, as it is important to recover following betrayal and be able to trust again, in order to meet social needs (Van Lange, 2015).
Tay and Diener (2011) examined the relationship between social needs and subjective well-being through emotional expression. The researchers found when social needs were being met, positive emotions were expressed and when social needs were not met, negative emotions were expressed. Fehr, Baldwin, Collins, Patterson, and Benditt (1999) found betrayal of trust as being the strongest antecedent for anger in close interpersonal relationships, followed by having plans cancelled at the last minute, unwarranted criticism, forgetting a birthday and persistently annoying behaviour.
Anger is perhaps the strongest emotion elicited by betrayal of trust which can trigger flight-or-fight responses and behavioural scripts which include yelling, swearing and controlling tendencies (Fehr et al., 1999). Anger also functions as an approach mechanism, where an individual seeks to do something about the aversive situation (Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009). Interestingly, Eibach, Libby, and Gilovich (2003) found that, following a betrayal, there is a perceived change in the world, which is now perceived as being bad whereas betrayal actually triggers a re-appraisal of the self and that has been misattributed. Grégoire and Fisher (2008) highlighted how love can turn to hate through anger, following a perceived loss after a trust agreement breaks.
Agency and volition
The link between biological mechanisms and social needs can be explained through the theory of agency. Agency is what separates humans from plants. It is the ability to exercise control over biological mechanisms, such as minimising pain signals, taking action to avoid pain or taking action to cause pain (Baumeister, 2016). Agency can be described as the ability to exercise control over quality of life and nature through volition—arguably, free-will—committing to a course of action (Bandura, 2001). In relation to trust and betrayal, these mechanisms have a sense of control that typically falls to an individual; they decide who to trust and betray. There are two notable exceptions:
- proxy agency, where another individual instead controls a trust agreement or initiates a betrayal (Bandura, 2001)
- biological mechanisms, where there is not a sense of control or it is perceived to be automatic (Locke & Latham, 2004).
Cognitive mechanisms - A process model of opportunistic betrayal
The Process Model of Opportunistic Betrayal (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998) works toward a generalised theory and model of how trust agreements can be violated. Unlike most betrayal research, it focuses on trust agreements from the perspective of the person breaking the trust agreement.
Elangovan and Shapiro (1998) propose that betrayal is the outcome of a decision-making process, wherein an individual evaluates if they should continue or break a trust relationship, following an antecedent or trigger. The researchers propose that the likelihood of betrayal is contingent on a negative assessment of the present situation created by the trust relationship, where an ideal situation provides more gain but requires the trust agreement to be broken. Their model steps through a number of key cognitive evaluations where the pros and cons are weighed:
- Antecedents or triggers, which initiate the evaluation of the trust agreement might be physiological need, psychological need or an opportunity.
- A cognitive evaluation of the trust agreement, which reviews the benefits of continued agreement, an assessment of the relationship and the principles which underpin the trust agreement—could things be better?
- A motivation to betray, follows if there is an impact to the quality of the agreement (benevolence) or honesty (integrity), results of the previous stage—do I deserve better?
- The motivation to betray is weighted against a penalty rating, which is calculated based on the cost of betrayal being detected, how responsible the person breaking the contract is, the probability of detection and probability of forgiveness (how severely will I be penalised?).
- The decision to betray occurs if the overall assessment results in a higher perceived gain from breaking the trust agreement, then the agreement will be broken and the other party betrayed.
Key to the model is cognitive evaluation of the trust agreement. Mayer et al. (1995) proposes benevolence and integrity is required to maintain a trust agreement, therefore the researchers propose that, if benevolence or integrity is impeded, it is possible for betrayal to occur (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998). The energy to betray is the result of comparing the current situation imposed by the trust agreement to a possible or desirable situation (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998). If this comparison yields poor satisfaction with the current situation there is effectively a state of cognitive dissonance, where expectations do not meet reality (Proulx, Inzlicht, & Harmon-Jones, 2012). This expectation leads to suffering (challenging benevolence) or feelings of being taken advantage of (challenging integrity). The lower the satisfaction, the higher the suffering and the higher the motivation to betray.
Elangovan and Shapiro (1998) provide a parsimonious explanation of betrayal - anything can trigger a betrayal, there is a cognitive evaluation of the trust agreement and if the cost is not too high then a betrayal will occur. However, this theory has not been the subject of empirical research, and it was originally focused on betrayal in an organisation so it might not be generalisable to day-to-day use. While it has not specifically been the focus of empirical research, there are similarities to cognitive dissonance theory which has been the subject of significant research.
Do the benefits of your trust agreement outweigh the expectations? Is what is expected higher than what is received? If expectations are higher than the current benefits of the trust agreement, be warned!
Consistency with cognitive dissonance theory
Cognitive dissonance occurs when an individual’s experience is not consistent with their expectations and usually results in compensatory or restorative behaviour (Proulx, Inzlicht, & Harmon-Jones, 2012). Proulx et al. (2012) highlights three components that make up cognitive dissonance theory:
- violation, where there is a mismatch between experience and expectations
- an aversive state, such as dissonance or unhappiness with the situation
- compensatory mechanism, such as accommodating the new information and re-interpreting the situation.
However, the researchers also highlight that the three components exist in a range of other psychologically-oriented theories such as terror management theory, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and compensatory control theory, and therefore call for a generalised theory.
Proulx et al. (2012) describe this generalised theory as a mechanism to understand inconsistency in terms of palliative responses following violated expectations. The components proposed by Proulx et al. (2012) are present in the Process Model of Opportunistic Betrayal by Elangovan and Shapiro (1998). Violation and an aversive state can be described as the result of the cognitive evaluation of the trust agreement and compensatory behaviour occurring which is the betrayal itself, to restore an optimal state and allow a new trust agreement to form.
Influence and persuasion, as antecedents or triggers
The Process Model of Opportunistic Betrayal effectively permits any factor to initiate the review of the trust agreement, thus beginning the cognitive evaluation of the trust agreement (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998). Cialdini (2001) proposes a set of social factors, based on empirical evidence, which might influence a trust agreement:
- Reciprocation, describes the tension of being indebted to an individual who provided something at cost to them-self.
- Authority, individuals typically respect authority, want to follow expert opinion and credible peers (Cialdini, 2001).
- Social proof, occurs when individuals look to people around them to guide decision making (Cialdini, 2001).
- Commitment and Consistency, can be explained when an individual decides on a course of action, they tend foolhardily pursue this agreement (Cialdini, 2001).
- Liking, can be described as a tendency to agree with people an individual wants to please, are similar, attractive, or simply someone who provides compliments (Cialdini, 2001).
- Scarcity, occurs when there is a perceived loss of something scarce (Cialdini, 2001).
Interestingly, the set of social influence factors identified by Cialdini (2001) has been recommended for use as a framework to recruit spies for foreign powers (Burkett, 2013). Unlike breaking trust relationships between two individuals, spies could ultimately be breaking a much more expensive trust agreement between themselves and their country, their source of income, religion or friendship group, which could ultimately cost their life (Burkett, 2013). Burkett (2013) also highlights an older framework used to recruit spies in the Cold War which included factors such as money, appealing to ideology, through coercion or appealing to an individual's ego and sense of adventure.
Applying betrayal motivation
Manipulating a betrayal in another
The process model of opportunistic betrayal (Elangovan & Shapiro, 1998) provides a mechanism to effectively orchestrate a betrayal by a third party. This is made possible by the emphases on:
- a vulnerable trust agreement, where vulnerability is when the current perceived value of the agreement is less than what is expected
- the gain presented by betrayal will improve the current situation and the gain outweighs the betrayal cost
- the re-assessment of the trust relationship can be triggered (exploited) by another party, as the model suggests antecedents and triggers are diverse and flexible
- the third party is able to gain enough information surrounding the situation.
For example, suppose Alice agrees to manage a newsagency shopfront for Bob while he is on his break (1). Mallory knows Bob is on his 30-minute lunch break and wants Alice to leave the shopfront unattended for 10 minutes (4). Mallory walks into the shopfront and offers Alice $2000 (3) to walk out the back for 10 minutes. Alice considers Mallory’s proposition and is motivated to betray Bob (2). (See Alice and Bob.)
Preventing a betrayal
Although the ultimate method of preventing a betrayal might be not to trust in the first place, Mayer et al. (1995) proposes a trust agreement is likely to be kept if there is benevolence and integrity. In effect, this is the ability to meet the expectations of the trust agreement, reciprocal good will and a commitment to accepted principles. However, it is important to note that expectations of the trust agreement might still remain unfulfilled. If these factors drop, then benevolence and integrity is impeded which affects the situation and potentially causes the motivation to betray.
While it might not be advantageous to manipulate the penalty rating, it might nonetheless be possible to prevent a betrayal occurring in the first place. Perhaps it is possible to increase the likelihood of being detected breaking the trust agreement or increase the punishment associated with breaking the agreement. As an example of this, an organisation might ensure staff are well aware that all of their email correspondence is recorded and subject to review. While this might prevent one method to enact betrayal, it might provide a false sense of security (Mayer et al., 1995).
Things to watch for, if you think someone is going to betray you:
Trust is a fundamental part of everyday life; it exists to facilitate socially productive activity. A trust agreement is the foundation on which trust is built and it requires willingness to accept risk. Betrayal occurs when a trust agreement is broken, despite mutually agreed expectations, and causes harm. While there are different types of trust agreements, opportunistic betrayal (as opposed to accidental and intentional betrayals) is largely cognitive or decision oriented.
Motivation theory can be used to explain trust and betrayal, to understand what initiates, energises and ceases its application. Trust can be viewed as a basic drive; humans need to trust to thrive whereas betrayal is an impulse or process to exit a bad trust agreement. Biological mechanisms enable trust to occur in the first place, through oxytocin, which also enables trusting behaviours to resume following a betrayal. Trust is key in fulfilling social needs, such as belonging to a group, forming productive relationships and loving another. Trust and betrayal are largely controlled through the self and enable particular courses of action to be taken.
Based on the Process Model of Opportunistic Betrayal, betrayal can be initiated by virtually anything causing the trust agreement to be reviewed. Betrayal can then be explained by determining whether the agreed benefits of the trust agreement continue to meet expectations. This theory has limited empirical validation, however, there are strong similarities to the widely researched theory of cognitive dissonance. More research is required on the present topic. At an individual level, perhaps the best approach is to learn more about the topic and it will likely lead to a more effective emotional and motivational life, especially if you can now prevent betrayals occurring and you know the warning signs of a bad trust agreement.
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- A fascinating TED Talk by Paul Zak on Trust, morality -- and oxytocin? One of the authors of "Oxytocin increases trust in humans," published in Nature.