One of the main reasons that initiatives fail (and 70-90% of them do fail) in most organizations is an overall lack of trust, according to previous research. Indeed a high level of trust has been shown to increase productivity and profitability.

A huge amount of research has been devoted to the issue of trust. We know that much of our ability to trust others is genetic—the allele (variant) that a person has of the oxytocin gene. This may amount to 40-50% of our trust/not trust “instinctive” reactions.

Part of our ability to trust is also due to the shape and activity of our ventral striatum (VS)—a crucial part of the limbic system in the mid-brain—and to the connectivity between our amygdala (the fear and mood center of the brain) and the VS.

An active amygdala has been associated with depression and anxiety and these two mood disorders have been linked to a reticence to trust.

Now a new twist has been thrown into the mix. According to research published in the journal Psychological Science, low birth weight signals an inability to trust easily in adult life. On the other hand high birth weight is associated with greater trust. In other words, the trusting employee of the future is formed in the mother's womb.

In one of the researchers' studies, a large number of respondents were asked if they believed that “a person cannot be too careful when dealing with other individuals” or if “most people can be trusted.” Responses that reflected a low level of trust tended to correlate with low birth weight.

The correlation remained even when controlling for genetic and environmental factors as measured by the birth weight of siblings. Siblings share family environment and, on average, 50 percent of the genes. If the correlation between low birth weight and low trust remains even after taking genetics and family environment into account, it supports the idea that factors linked to the embryonic stage have an impact on adult life. The researchers found exactly that to be the case.

What this means in practice is that management looking to increase the level of trust in their organizations must:

  • Have their potential hirees give a mouth swab to see which variant of the OT gene they carry
  • Have an fMRI scan to show the activity and size of their striatum and anygdala
  • Have them prove their birth weight
  • (finally) See if they have the right experience and education for the job.

Simple really. Probably illegal, but simple.

Dr Bob