Trust in Government Starts by Lowering Stress in Citizens

Fascinating story on NPR about the “trust” hormone (oxytocin) and one researcher’s findings that trust in the government is related to the amount of stress someone feels at the time. According to the study, trust in the government is at an all time low because of the stress people feel due to the recession. When college students were given a squirt of oxytocin they reported feeling more trusting of other people. From this trust, they also reported less distrust in the government.

So, by promoting wellness and lowering the national stress level, could the government also be promoting better citizen engagement?

(Crossposted on Neurogovernment)

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Srinidhi Boray

Trust in government is created by doing “trust worthy” work, recession being one of the causes created by lot of untrustworthy actions.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Srinidhi – True. And there is a lot of blame to share as to what caused the recession such as failure to monitor the investment banks, regulatory capture by lobbyists, and plain dereliction of duty (watching porn instead of the subprime mortages market).

We have to regain trust and this is accomplished by pushing OpenGov as hard as we can.

Stephen Buckley

It’s the other way around. Engagement (i.e., better communication) lowers stress. (Just like it does in personal relationships.)

Let’s think about it this way:

Your car broke down and is towed to the nearest garage. You’re afraid that the mechanic will exploit the situation and want to do more repairs than are really needed. So, you are stressed.

But then the mechanic comes out and takes the time to explain to you, clearly, what the problem is, and what are your options. Yes, repairs are needed, but you are less stressed because you understand “what’s going on” and that the situation is not “out of control”. Your stress level goes down.

Engaging the public — involving them in “what-to-do” — lowers the stress (i.e., frustration) that has to happen before it can evolve into a more trusting relationship.

at suggest repairs in the shop. Your afraid that the

Nina Adrianna

I disagree. I think that if people were more stressed about how the government was doing, they would become more engaged, because they would want to affect change. A whole bunch of super relaxed happy people aren’t going to care about what’s going on, and will remain disengaged.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Nina – One could argue that the Tea Partiers seem quite stressed but their idea of change is to drastically reduce government rather than engage government.

@Stephen – Yes, but if I start off with the perception that everything the mechanic says is a lie, how does the mechanic build trust?

Srinidhi Boray

@Nina – true stress or pain is a symptom telling something is wrong, probably drastically wrong. When it is detected one must work in its removal. But then bureaucracy ……and all the happy people will maintain status-quo, mostly the elitists to who the recession has not affected. It is experienced that one with motherly instincts are the first to recognize and respond to pain.

@Bill. Yes OpenGov needs lots of pushing and also direct action against what is wrong. Unfortunately many people are paying the price for the system that was predatory.

Stephen Buckley

@Bill – How does the mechanic (or anyone) build trust? By communicating (two-way) honestly and consistently with the people he/she is trying to help. People know when they’re being listened to. And being understood lowers their frustration, which brings down the stress level.

Mary Groebner

Being honest means admitting you make mistakes and need help and asking for help when you need it too. These are hard traits to find in government workers sometimes, especially when they feel under stress themselves due to a lot of ‘bashing’ of their use/worthiness in the first place. Makes them even LESS likely to admit mistakes or ask for help – but it’s hard to trust someone who is acting like they are perfect even when you know they are not. Makes it seem like they don’t ‘get it’ in the first place.

Arvind Nigam

+1 Mary Groebner!

In fact reduction of stress in Government framework is a very tough job. Coz that implies removal of a lot of acid leading to a Cultural Change within the organism called Government. Cultural change is a difficult task for private companies too, so one can imagine how nearly impossible (in a short period of time) is it for the Government.

However social media & internet does help bringing down the stress levels by way of being able to converse outside of one’s workplace, anonymous venting and sometimes even pornography. My take is that post Gov20, a lot of cultural blending is likely to come, and things should only get better.

CEO – BubbleIdeas

Laura Wesley

This is really interesting! I agree with some of the others below that the path to trust is through honest, open and active communication. After all, government’s role is in quality of life for as many of its citizens as possible. It seems natural that we’d be able to talk to people, but government frequently seems to be disconnected from those it serves.