Trust, they say, once broken can never be built again, but researchers have now said that if the breach of trust happens in the beginning of a relationship, it is more difficult to overcome than a betrayal that occurs after ties are established.
According to the results, early violations can be particularly devastating, and plant seeds of doubt that may never go away
"First impressions matter when you want to build a lasting trust. If you get off on the wrong foot, the relationship may never be completely right again. It's easier to rebuild trust after a breach if you already have a strong relationship," said Robert Lount, co-author of the study and assistant professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.
He said that the results defy the popular notion that suggests many great relationships start off on a bad note.
"Our results fly in the face of this Hollywood notion of hating someone at first sight but then developing a wonderful, passionate relationship. The likelihood of that happening in real life is pretty low," he said.
For the study, the researcher conducted two related experiments, where college students participated in a game in which their partners violated their trust either right at the beginning of the game or somewhere in the middle.
Using a famous game in psychology called the prisoner's dilemma, the researchers aimed at determining how much the students were willing to cooperate with the partner after trust was breached.
In the first experiment, 138 students played multiple rounds of the game on a computer, which they thought they were playing with a student via a computer in another room. However, they were actually playing with a computer that was programmed to defect at specific points during the more than 30 rounds of the game.
The results indicated that participants who experienced the immediate breaches of trust had the most negative evaluations of their partners.
It was found that participants who experienced a breach of trust during the first two trials of the game were also the least likely to cooperate at the end of the game, suggesting they had the least trust in their partners.
On the other hand, participants who experienced a trust breach latest in the game showed the most cooperation at the end of the game.
Lount pointed out that in all cases, the computer defected against the participants the same number of times, but the timing of the breaches was key.
"An immediate breach of trust is particularly difficult to overcome, and later breaches are considerably less harmful," he said.
After the experiment, the participants filled a questionnaire and it was found that those who experienced the immediate breach rated their partners as less trustworthy than did those whose partner defected later in the game.
In a second experiment, the researchers essentially repeated the first experiment with 108 students, but this time the students answered a short set of questions concerning their perceptions and feelings about their partner immediately following a breach and every 10 trials thereafter.
"Our results suggest that immediate breaches are especially costly because they seriously damage the impressions people have about their partner, and that's hard to repair," he said.
The study has been published in a recent issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.