High levels of trust are essential to the success of online sharing platforms and e-commerce. Among the ways trust is generated, knowing more about the people we interact with online is particularly important. In this paper, Teubner et al. test how trust and resource sharing are affected when different levels of picture humanization – the extent to which the user picture represents a human being – are employed.

In their experiment, the researchers engage 216 users in an invented sharing game and find that the more closely user pictures resemble players, the more trust and reciprocity and greater sharing ensue.

Furthermore, the study finds that using accredited avatars – those that resemble the user (e.g., same hair colour and style) and the accreditation of a third party – is also effective in promoting sharing behaviour. Given growing privacy concerns in the digital sphere, this finding highlights the potential for peer-to-peer platform operators to strengthen trust, without completely doing away with anonymity.