Deciding when and how much to trust other people can be a tricky balance because you generally won’t know for sure whether you’ve assessed the situation correctly until it’s too late.
Trust is partly an intuitive thing – if you have a gut feeling one way or the other, you go with it. But trust can also be a thing where you intuitively want to trust someone, but your better judgment kicks in and says “Take a step back to look at all the factors here and consider what the consequences will be down the line.”
Of course, the problem with ADHD is that sometimes our better judgment doesn’t kick in when it should. That’s pretty much the definition of impulsivity. When you’re prone to jumping into situations without weighing the broader context and consequences, I’d suggest that sometimes that contributes to trusting people you shouldn’t.
Take the example of romantic relationships, where trust matters a lot. As I’ve written before, people with higher levels of impulsivity seem to be more prone to infatuation in the early stages of getting to know someone. Often, that initial excitement can mean mean throwing careful consideration into the wind – including careful consideration of how much trust you should place in someone, and when.
It’s not just in a romantic context where a tendency to trust easily and impulsively can show up. A 2016 study on how people with ADHD and without ADHD play a trust game with strangers highlights this point.
In the game, players have a certain amount of money and choose a portion to lend to a “trustee.” The trustee then uses the money to make a profit, a certain portion of which is shared with the person who lent the money. If the trustee acts in a trustworthy fashion, the person who lent the money ends up with more money than they started with. But the trustee can also decide to keep more of the profit than they were supposed to, in which case the lender loses money.
The study found that people with ADHD tended to invest more money in people who’d already shown untrustworthy behavior. This wasn’t simply because of inattention or forgetfulness – the ADHDers knew these trustees had a tendency not to pay back the money in full, but they lent them more money anyway.
According to the authors of the study, this difference in trust might come down to how people with ADHD process rewards. If ADHDers are more focused on obtaining immediate rewards (such as gaining money in the trust game), they might risk more of their money to obtain those rewards, even if the probability of the desired outcome is fairly small (due to the trustee being untrustworthy).
I think this gets to the heart of it: trusting someone is a risk. Something people with ADHD seem to do well is take risks to obtain rewards, and from that perspective, taking the risk of trusting someone is a good thing because it can open up more fulfilling relationships with other people.
At the same time, there is such a thing as a risk that isn’t worth it. And if you find you have a pattern of trusting people when it’s not worth the risk, that’s probably something to take note of.