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  • Writer's pictureSarah Carter

Do you trust me?

Aladdin asks Jasmine "Do you trust me?" right before they leap out of a window to avoid palace guards in Disney's 1992 movie Aladdin. They had just met barely four minutes ago and now she's leaping out a window with him?!? For those of you in the reading crowd with young daughters, this is something I'm sure you'll want to add to your list of "do NOT do this" advice along with hitchhiking, talking to total strangers on the internet, and dating before they are 30. Why would Jasmine feel like she could trust this near stranger and take such a crazy leap of faith?? (See what I did there...leap...couldn't help myself.) The princess did appear to ponder this same question in the film before throwing caution to the wind. She was hopefully considering what trust is and how she came to the seemingly acceptable conclusion that she could indeed trust Aladdin to not be leading her to an early grave.

Trust is a complex ball of intuitions and rational thoughts that we are constantly reevaluating, or reinforcing, for each person in our lives - from family to near strangers. Jasmine makes her evaluation of Aladdin in less than no time which, while it surprised you and me, may not have surprised Dr. David DeSteno. Dr. DeSteno pulls apart the multi-layered, knotted ball called trust in The Truth About Trust: How it determines success in life, love, learning and more. His insights in the first four chapters of this book will help us see Jasmine's reasoning and maybe shed some light on your own trust processes. These four chapters discuss the foundation of trust, how our biology builds trust, learning to trust, and romantic trust which is certainly where the relationship between Aladdin and Jasmine ends up.

As we begin to pull the thread on the trust yarn ball, we see that trust boils down to two driving principles: needs and teamwork.

1) "...precisely where your needs and theirs diverge [is where] trust comes into play. If each person's goals were the same...there would be no potential conflict and thereby no need to trust" pg. 1

2) "...more can be achieved by working together than by working alone. That's why we trust...The need to increase resources" pg.3

Aladdin and Jasmine were cornered by some thuggish palace guards bent on killing one of them and imprisoning the other. Safe to say their need to escape, and the teamwork it would require, were met for trust to form. Her conclusion seems more plausible but let's look a little further shall we?

Biology and sociology definitely play prominent roles in predestining us to trust. Dr. DeSteno references several behavioral lab studies conducted with our closest animal cousins, monkeys, to determine their capacity for trust. Through them all, the monkeys "want to make sure others view them as fair and reliable...[in order] to show that they would be fair and trustworthy partners in future endeavors" pg. 51. The most interesting part of these studies, to me, was that only the socialized monkeys behaved this way. Loner species, like orangutans, did not attempt to build trust with others.

Dr. DeSteno also mentions some lab studies done with humans and the involvement of our prominent, duplicitous chemical - oxytocin. "Oxytocin might increase attachment and willingness to trust those close to us, but it also might result in greater discriminatory behavior toward those we see as different" pg. 53. When Aladdin literally parades into the palace disguised as Prince Ali Ababwa, clearly lacking any sign of humility, Jasmine's oxytocin ridden brain sets off the alarm bells because this person is so different from her ideal. Had Aladdin not accidently given himself away a few scenes later, Jasmine's precious house tiger may have drove the message home.

Your foundation for trust begins almost immediately after birth. Studies mentioned in chapter three show that babies of as young as six months demonstrate a basic understanding of trust through the actions of a group of puppets (pgs. 83 - 85). "Trust is about integrity and competence - about wanting to do the right thing and being able to do it" pg. 87. Patterns of behavior establish both integrity and competence. Whether you're lending someone money to invest, helping a fellow puppet up a cardboard mountain, asking that a secret be kept, or being asked to jump out of a window to evade local law enforcement, the pattern of observed behavior prior to this request determines in your mind if you can trust your potential with the task because of their demonstrated integrity and competence. More points for Aladdin here because his behavior prior to the window trust jump was competent and mostly integrous (minus that whole stealing to eat thing).

As Jasmine stood on that window ledge looking at Aladdin with the guards pounding up the stairs behind her, I'd love to think that her rational brain was running some complex string theory equation to determine how to proceed but, I am a realist, and I completely acknowledge that Dr. DeSteno was probably right in this situation: "intuitive responses guide behavior when the conscious mind isn't inclined or able to override them" pg. 107 especially when romance is involved. Trust protects relationships. It takes time and effort to build solid trust foundations based on patterns of competence and integrity so your brain rewards those by "[altering] the mental calculus running in the background of our minds. It makes us consider what we have to lose in the long run if we harm this relationship in pursuit of a short-term victory" pg. 100. With their love budding from adventure, and trust building from risks they'd already navigated, Jasmine decided that her long term chances with Aladdin would be nil if she didn't jump. Overly dramatized but it is a Disney movie so...

My point in this trip down animated memory lane is that we are all practically born to begin to build, and exercise, an understanding of trust. Trust comes from having needs and recognizing that long-term teamwork is the most efficient way to fill them. Because of this, we start to identify patterns of competence and integrity in others, or lack there of, and pin our trust to those relationships. Over time, our brains rewire to protect those long term relationships and our oxytocin fortifies that loyalty.

There's more to come in The Truth About Trust, we're only halfway through! Come on back May 22nd to continue the exploration. Until then, let me know what you think about the book by posting in the comments below, via my socials, or shooting me an email. Happy reading!

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Sarah Carter
Sarah Carter
May 25, 2020

@voijanelle: Need is almost right. I feel the author would steer you more to think of it as "in order to truly thrive, we should live in a group/team." Orangutans and off-the-grid people do live in their solitary ways never having to rely on or trust others to the extent the majority of us do but are they thriving? Trust in others is a key to not going beyond survival and into flourishing.


May 19, 2020

Sorry couldn't finish.Like the Orangutans guess they are strong and not afraid so they do not need the trust of others or their acceptance.But like most of us we need to fit in a group or to feel we belong ,and most of all we need each other.Need I don't know if that's the right word,we live together,work united.Trust protects the relationship or makes the relationshio. What about blind trust?or trust in a hopeful way. I'll wait till May 22nd.


May 19, 2020

Haven't read the book,but comment on your explanation. Had to look up the words,faith,fate,trust and hope.All have a nuance with faith. (Less fate).With integrity, intuitions. I guess,faith has no fear.Or

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