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Trust and satisfaction in peer learning groups.


The purpose of this study was to examine the antecedents of trust and the relationship of trust on student satisfaction within collaborative peer learning groups. Students from a mid-sized regional comprehensive university (n=423) returned completed surveys. Overall, findings provide support for the proposed model and suggest that factors related to the originator of trust, the target of trust, and fit between individual attitudes and behaviors required for successful team functioning are influential. Additional findings, limitations, implications for teaching, and directions for future research are discussed.


Collaborative learning is a major component of business education today. Students in many college classes are required to complete projects in groups and one of the complaints that students have is the possibility of unequal contributions of group members to the final product (Williams, Beard, & Rymer, 1991). Evaluation criteria can be established to hold both the group and the individual accountable for the group processes and products (Williams et al.), but a factor that may influence the functioning of the group is the trust members have for other members of their team or group.


Many studies have been published pertaining to trust yet the nature of its development has not been studied and inconsistencies exist in its conceptualization and measurement (Gill, Boies, Finegan, & McNally, 2005). The most contentious issue appears to be a lack of consensus between the antecedents of trust and the construct of trust itself (Bhattacharya, Devinney, & Pilluta, 1998; Gill et al.; Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995). Using the Integrative Model of Organizational Trust (Mayer et al.) when examining trust between two or more individuals, there is a trustor (the individual trusting) and a trustee or trustees (the individual or individuals being trusted). Mayer et al.'s conceptualization of trust states that one party allows itself to be vulnerable to the actions of another based on expectations that the other party will act in a particular manner. In this rational view, trust is an entity that individuals will evaluate with respect to the notion that a trusting relationship entails time-savings, savings of emotional energy, and results in benefits that are not present in non-trusting relationships (Jarvenpaa, Knoll, & Leidner, 1998). In other words, the rational view employs trust as a means to address a focal individual's self-interests. This study looks at the rational view of trust as examined by Jarvenpaa et al. to provide a theoretical framework for the antecedents of trust in a classroom setting.

Researchers have proposed that people determine trust in others based on their beliefs about the trustee's abilities (i.e., knowledge, skills, and competencies), integrity (i.e., the extent to which a trustor believes that the trustee will act in a way that the trustee finds acceptable), and benevolence (i.e., the extent to which the trustor believes that the trustee will act in the best interests of the trustor) (Gill et al.; Mayer et al.). An individual is more likely to trust others who are of high ability, benevolence, and integrity. Also influencing trust is the personality variable of propensity to trust that refers to a generalized expectation of the trust of others (Mayer et al.). This variable is sometimes called dispositional trust (Kramer, 1999; Kramer & Tyler, 1996) or interpersonal mast (Rotter, 1971, 1980) and is viewed as the primary ingredient in trust early in a relationship (Mayer et al.). People with a high propensity to trust have positive expectations about the behaviors and intentions of others (Mayer et al.). Findings from the works of Ostroff, Shin, and Kinicki (2005) suggest that there is a collection of attitudes that can serve to facilitate "fit" between focal individuals and effectiveness in a team context. These fit factors include the degree that individuals recognize and are willing and able to respond to the signals and needs of others on the team. Ostroff et al. refer to this factor as "human relations." Similarly, findings from the Ostroff et al. research identify key processes that are internal to the team and critical to its function including such items as being results focused and having high expectations for performance. These authors suggest that the degree of fit would be directly related to attitudinal outcomes and so it would be reasonable to test the hypothesis that measures of fit are related to perceptional precursors of trust towards individuals in the focal student's peer learning group.

In a study of antecedents of organizational trust in a sample of 83 managers in a federal governmental agency, multiple regression analysis showed that marital status and work group cohesion were positively related to organizational trust (Gilbert & Tang, 1998). Married people were found to be more trusting as were those in cohesive teams or work groups. Cohesiveness can be described as meaning that the group or team members are drawn to each other and membership is positively valued (Adams, 2003). However, trust does not appear to differ among racial groups or by gender (Gilbert & Tang).

The Study

After a review of the literature, a conceptual model was constructed to study antecedents and outcomes related to levels of trust in academic groups or teams. Mayer et al. argue that trust levels are a function of facets of the trustor and also the object of that trust, the trustee. Attributes of the trustee include perceptions of his or her ability on task-related skills. The model looked at the variables of propensity to trust and values congruence and how these relate to ability, benevolence, and integrity, and focused on how group satisfaction is mediated by these variables. The objective of this study was to determine how trust develops and, in turn, how trust impacts team member satisfaction in student teams formed to complete class projects. The model with hypothesized links between constructs is depicted in Figure 1. See issue website http://rapidintellect.corn/AEQweb/win2006.htm

A 58-item survey was used to gather data for this study. Overall congruence was measured according to Ostroff et al. and consisted of three items assessing values congruence as per the human relations scale and five items related to the internal processes scale. Six items were used from the Jarvenpaa et al. modified propensity to trust scale with one item pertaining to foreign students excluded from the survey due to too few foreign students in the sample. The survey for the present study incorporated five of the six items in the Jarvenpaa et al. ability scale. The discarded item related to the qualification of members of the collaborative learning group and as such, was not applicable to the student sample. In the present study, the group members were equally qualified and upper level undergraduate students and graduate students of similar "ranking." Ability, benevolence, and integrity were measured with the seventeen items used in the Jarvenpaa et al. research. Eleven items from Keyton's (1991) global satisfiers scale were used to assess subjects' overall satisfaction with his or her collaborative learning group. All items were rated on a 5-point Liken scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

The study involved the administration of the survey to 483 upper-level undergraduate and graduate students at a medium size regional comprehensive university. Means for all scale scores were not significantly different between undergraduate and graduate students so both groups were collapsed into one sample in the present study. The subjects were drawn from 14 different courses that involved 13 different professors working out of seven different departments in various colleges throughout the university. The courses selected for the study were restricted to those courses that had collaborative learning as a part of the course structure as determined by both the existence of collaborative learning teams as well as having a component of the course grade determined by the quality of team deliverables rated by the instructor of record for the course. Final selection of those sections that were included in the study was determined by those instructors of record who provided written consent to allow the research to be conducted during class meetings. The schedule of survey administration was selected at the convenience of the instructor of record for each section but, occurred at mid-semester giving time for subjects to become moderately involved in collaborative work.

Prior to the completion of the surveys, subjects met with their collaborative team members and had already completed one or more team assignments. In all cases, surveys were introduced to the students via standardized script and students were informed that their completion of the surveys was voluntary. This effort yielded 423 subjects who responded to each item on the survey, an effective response rate of 87.6%.

Data were analyzed using AMOS 4.0 to obtain regression weights, standardized regression weights, squared multiple correlations for the endogenous variables, and significance levels for test statistics. Since multiple items were collected per construct, scale scores were created using a mean of the items for estimation of each construct. The model included three exogenous variables, five endogenous variables, and five error variables, one for each of the endogenous variables.


Means, standard deviations, and scale correlations for measures in this study are shown in Table 1. See issue website Propensity to trust was positively related to subject's assessment of ability of peer learning group team members, benevolence of peer learning group members, and integrity of peer learning group members (p<0.01 for each). Human relations was also positively and significantly related to these same constructs as well (p<0.01, 0.01, and 0.05 respectively). As posited, internal processes was also found to be significantly and positively related to ability, benevolence, and integrity (p<0.01 for each).

The strength of association of ratings of team members' abilities was only modestly related to ratings of trust (p=0.085). In contrast, ratings of team member integrity and benevolence both exhibited potent levels of statistical significance (p<0.01 and p<0.05, respectively). These findings generally confirm the generalizability of the Jarvenpaa et al. trust model. The final result of the analysis was that the linkage between the trust and satisfaction constructs was also highly significant (p<0.01) and in the expected direction. Figure 2 illustrates the outcomes of the analysis with standardized path coefficients and significance. See

Limitations and Further Research

There were several limitations involved in this research. First, the sample was heterogeneous in that it contained undergraduate and graduate students. A more homogeneous sample is desirable and it would be useful to see if a comparison could be made between the trust in undergraduate versus graduate student groups. Second, nothing was specifically known about the students' experience with groups in other courses; their previous contact with group work might influence their current thinking and behavior. Third, although the survey was administered mid-semester so as to give time for the groups to interact, there may have been varying degrees of group interaction at the time the survey was administered because some students wait until a deadline approaches before initiating work on group projects. Therefore, it was not clear if the groups were all at the same point in their work. More accurate data about the group interactions could be gathered if the groups were all at about the same point in their projects. For example, it would have been useful to have all student groups complete a part of a project before completing the survey to ensure that they had actually worked on a significant group task. While results of this study should be directly generalizable to groups and teams in college classes, further research is necessary to assess the generalizability of findings to the workplace.

Implications and Conclusions

The results of this study point to the importance of considering trust in academic groups or teams. Results of the study indicate that instructors cannot manipulate students' propensity to trust; however, they may be able to moderate its influence. Instructors put students into groups or students self-select group membership and are expected to complete a task often without any attention given to group development. However, a positive team mentality is based on trust, and trust is essential for building cooperative relationships in work groups. Therefore, educators setting up teams or groups in their classes need to pay attention to trust to foster better working relationships among group members.

In general, groups are formed to produce better output than individuals could accomplish alone by taking advantage of a multitude of skills and experiences. Just as students bring varying skills and experiences to a team, they also bring varying degrees of trust even before any contact among the students takes place. This predisposition to trust impacts the trajectory of team development. Educators should be aware that students with either extremely high or low propensities to trust may encounter difficulties during their team experiences since students with high dispositions to trust may lack a healthy skepticism while those with low dispositions to trust may make team development difficult, slow, or impossible.

Too often, educators who are aware of the benefits of teamwork in the classroom add group work to their syllabi but do little to counsel students on how to work in a team. Educators would do well to pay attention to the characteristics of high performing teams, such as: being team oriented; sharing information freely; being supportive; being self directed and focused; having high expectations; and taking individual responsibility (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993). Trust levels in groups are not static and continued attention to trust issues is necessary. Instructors can encourage group members to communicate directly with each other about issues in a neutral fashion by listening carefully, collectively correcting the problems, and choosing alternative resources as needed. Students about to embark on long-term group projects may benefit from:

* Defining and discussing trust

* Developing an awareness of trust issues

* Recognizing individual differences concerning trust

* Acknowledging that the combination of group members' propensities to trust can impact group performance

* Becoming aware of each other's beliefs that are based on generalizations or stereotypes that may influence levels of trust

* Establishing a code of conduct for the team

* Communicating clearly by sharing misunderstandings and listening willingly

* Understanding that groups with low levels of trust may take longer to be effective because they must work through trust issues before they can produce team projects

Essentially, attention to trust by both instructors and students when teams are first formed is time well spent. This is particularly true given the potential for producing greater output, experiencing higher satisfaction, and leaving the current team with a positive attitude they will take with them to their next team.


Adams, S. (2003). Building successful student teams in the engineering classroom. Journal of STEM Education, 4(3/4), 1-6.

Bhattacharya, R., Devinney, T. M., & Pilluta, M. M. (1998). A formal model of trust based on outcomes. Academy of Management Review, 23(3), 459-472.

Gilbert, J. A., & Tang, T. L. (1998). An examination of organizational trust antecedents. Public Personnel Management, 27(3), 321-335.

Gill, H., Boies, K., Finegan, J. E., & McNally, J. (2005). Antecedents of trust: Establishing a boundary condition for the relation between propensity to trust and intention to trust. Journal of Business and Psychology, 19(3), 287-302.

Jarvenpaa, S., Knoll, K., & Leidner, D. (1998). Is anybody out there? Antecedents of trust in global virtual teams. Journal of Management Information Systems, 14, 29-64.

Katzenbach, J. R. & Smith, D. K. (1993). The wisdom of teams: Creating the highperformance organization. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Keyton, J. (1991). Evaluating individual group member satisfaction as a situational variable. Small Group Research, 22(2), 200-219.

Kramer, R. M. (1999). Trust and distrust in organizations: Emerging perspectives, enduring questions. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 569-598.

Kramer, R. M. & Tyler, T. R. (1996). Trust in organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, F. D. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust, Academy of Management Review, 20, 709-734.

Ostroff, C., Shin, Y., & Kinicki, A. J. (2005). Multiple perspectives of congruence: Relationships between values congruence and employee attitudes. Journal of Organizational behavior, 26, 591-623.

Rotter, J. B. (1971). Generalized expectancies for interpersonal trust. American Psychologist, 26(5), 443-452.

Rotter, J. B. (1980). Interpersonal trust, trustworthiness, and gullibility. American Psychologist, 35, 1-7.

Williams, D. L., Beard, J. D., & Rymer, J. (1991). Team projects: Achieving their all potential. Journal of Marketing Education, 13(2), 45-53.

Paul H. Jacques, Western Carolina University, NC

John Garger, Binghamton University, NY

Cynthia S. Deale, Western Carolina University, NC

Jacques, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in Management and International Business; Garger is a Doctoral Candidate at Binghamton University, and Deale, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Hospitality & Tourism, Department of Management & International Business
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Author:Deale, Cynthia, S.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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