Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Emotion and trust

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Trusting someone you barely know is like recommending something you haven’t tried.
Different emotions in the form of masks

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Emotions may play an important role in an individual’s tendency to trust as people are unaware of the significant influence their emotional state actually has on their judgment (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Emotions have been shown to affect a variety of difficult decisions, including whether to trust a stranger, a partner, a politician, a competitor, a classmate, and so on (Forgas, 2009). Emotion has been shown to affect things like altruism, risk choices, and how likely a future event is (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005).

Key questions[edit | edit source]

Do emotions have any influence over our tendency to trust?
If so, what emotions make the biggest impacts?
Does knowing someone increase or decrease the emotional impact?
What should we learn from this for everyday life?


Defining emotion[edit | edit source]

Emotions can be characterised as the main judgment and level someone feels for an object, person or event (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). It can also be defined by a number of secondary appraisals including degree of certainty, necessary attention and effort, and control over the outcome (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Emotion is one of the most important elements of humans’ psychological experience. According to many recent theories of emotion, appraisals of the environment are the most important factors of emotional responses (Mauro et. al., 1992). These appraisals can be primitive, such as noticing changes in ones environment, and these types of appraisals are made by all organisms (Mauro et. al., 1992). Alternatively, appraisals can be fairly complex, such as evaluating if one's actions or feelings correspond to a social norm, and these appraisals can only be made by humans (Mauro et. al., 1992). It can be suggested that cultural differences in emotional responses reflect cultural differences in the judgments of events (Mauro et. al., 1992). A number of research findings have suggested that emotion could have a strong influence over an individual’s cognition, decision-making and ability to trust.

Trust quote

Defining trust[edit | edit source]

Many different areas have studied trust, and each have defined it differently. By using a combination of these definitions, it can be suggested that trust is the willingness to accept vulnerability based on the expectations about another's behaviour (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Trust can exist between individuals, groups and companies, and can represent either a worldwide belief in humanity or a personal or situation-specific attitude (Glaeser et. al., 2000). Trust is essential for society as a whole; for effective management, government and social structures. However, despite its significance, many questions regarding how trust actually works still remain.

How trusting are you? Take the quiz to find out:

1 I'm at ease when I'm alone:


2 When people are angry at me, I usually understand why:


3 I sometimes worry that my friends and family will hurt or abandon me:


4 My first impressions are almost always accurate:


5 I need a glass of wine after work to relax:


6 I try and keep my promises:


7 Most people behave pretty much as I expect them to:


Scored less than 4? You may have some trust issues

Scored 4? You have a nice balance

Scored more than 4? You are a very trusting person, this is good but be careful

Source: The Trust Test from

Emotions and trust

How emotions affect trust[edit | edit source]

The current research has mixed results for the study of how emotions influence trust. Dunn and Schweitzer (2005) found that emotions affect trust, but only for emotions with a certain control appraisal. In other words trust increases or decreases depending on whether an individual feels that they are in control over the situation or another person is. When people believe another person is in control, they will use their emotional state to decide whether or not to trust (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Dunn and Schweitzer (2005) tested this theory by causing participants to feel emotions that differ in their control appraisal, and then measuring their self-reported willingness to trust another person. Their findings support the claim that control and emotion interact to affect trust (Glaeser et al., 2000).

Control appraisals[edit | edit source]

Anger, sadness, and guilt are all negative emotions, but all have different control appraisals. Anger is characterised by high other-person control, sadness by high situational control, and guilt by high personal control (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). When considering a negative situation, people usually feel angry if they think another person is responsible, sad if they believe non-human factors, for example cancer, are responsible and guilty if they view themselves to be responsible (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Keltner et. al. suggested that angry people should perceive events with unknown causes, such as someone's house catching fire, as more likely occurring from human causes, like an arsonist, than from situational causes, like a bush fire, while sad individuals should feel the opposite. Emotions with other-person control appraisals, such as anger, are likely to influence other-person judgments, such as trust (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Furthermore, judgments, both personal and situational, are influenced in the direction of the emotion's appraisal, so positive emotions lead to positive judgments, as so on (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). For example, judgments about an individual's own future achievements will be strongly affected by pride and guilt rather than by anger or sadness, which are other-person and situational emotions (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Likewise, judgments of situational emotions, for example a tsunami, will be influenced by sadness and hope more than by pride or anger (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005).

Table 1. Different types of emotions and their control-appraisals (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005)

Personal-Control Other-Person Siuational
Positive Pride, Happiness Happiness Hope, Happiness
Negative Guilt Anger Sadness

A problem with Dunn and Schweitzer's (2005) study was that they relied on participants to self-report their levels of trust, and this method has previously been shown to be a poor measuring device (Glaeser et al., 2000). Furthermore, they did not examine certainty appraisals, which describe the degree to which emotions make people certain or uncertain about their current judgment (Glaeser et al., 2000).

Some researchers have suggested that moods are more likely to influence judgments, and therefore trust, than emotions. Unlike moods, emotional states are usually shorter, more intense, and characterised by a number of different cognitive appraisals (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Researchers have argued that emotions are more likely to be correctly attributed to their original cause than moods are because moods have weaker control appraisals than emotions (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005).

Certainty[edit | edit source]

In contrast to the research of Dunn and Schweitzer (2005), Myers and Tingley (2011) found that anxiety, a negative emotion, reduced trusting behaviour, while other emotions, like anger and guilt, have no significant effect. They suggest that the most important factor causing emotions to influence trust is the level of certainty the emotion makes people to feel (Myers & Tingley, 2011). So, because anxiety is a low certainty emotion, it reduces trust, while anger and guilt, which produce high levels of certainty, have no clear effect on trust (Myers & Tingley, 2011). From this, it can be suggested that when experiencing low certainty emotions, individuals will use their current emotional state to make judgments. For example, you are entering a classroom for a test and are feeling extremely anxious, someone asks if they can borrow your phone to send a quick test, you are suddenly suspicious and tell them your battery is almost dead. Myers and Tingley’s (2011) study on the certainty of emotions has outlined the importance of the type of emotion being experienced.

Familiarity[edit | edit source]

Another factor that is likely to moderate the relationship between emotions and trust is how familiar someone is with the person. When someone has little history with a person, they will use heuristic information processing to form a trust judgment (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Because of this, the individual will use their current emotional state to judge the person. However, when they are quite familiar with the person, trust judgments generally use direct access or main information processing (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). Dunn and Schweitzer (2005) found that emotions do not influence trust when individuals are aware of the source of their emotions or when individuals are very familiar with the trustee. For example, you automatically trust your best friend with a secret without having to think of specific evidence that supports or opposes this trust, because you are very familiar with them. In this case, emotions are not likely to influence your trust judgments, as you are using direct access to make your judgments. From this it can be expected that emotions influence trust judgments of new acquaintances and strangers more than friends and family.

Affect Infusion Model

The Affect Infusion Model[edit | edit source]

The Affect Infusion Model (AIM) suggests that individual’s different judgments will be specifically influenced by their moods. The model identifies the type of cognitive processing used when making a judgment as an important mediator between mood and judgment (Forgas, 1995). Furthermore, it says that a person’s current emotional state changes their judgment of new stimuli by pushing them into the direction of the emotion already being experienced (Forgas, 1995). The first way this happens is through memory, because a particular emotional state makes mental ideas that are similar, easier to access, and thus more likely to be used when judging new stimuli (Myers & Tingley, 2011). For instance, when you are in a good mood, you are more trusting because positive moods have memories where trusting behaviour led to a positive outcome, and are easier for you to access. For example, your husband is more likely to let you drive his brand new car when he is in a good mood than a bad one. The second process suggests that emotional states operate as an easy to reach heuristic that provides information that is used to judge new objects (Schwarz and Clore, 1983). The AIM suggests that someone experiencing a negative mood may take his mood as a sign that he does not like a new stimulus, even if that stimulus is unrelated to his reason for being in a negative mood (Schwarz and Clore, 1983). For example, you have a fight with your partner and then drive to work still angry. After meeting your new work colleague, you decide you dislike this person but for no particular reason. The AIM suggests this dislike is due to the previous mood (anger) that is directing the dislike for the new stimulus (the work colleague). Emotional states can influence the processing of information, with some negative emotional states producing more energy and analytical processes than positive emotions (Martin & Clore, 2013).

Schwarz and Clore (1983)[edit | edit source]

When Schwarz and Clore (1983) asked people to rate their life satisfaction, they found that people gave higher ratings of life satisfaction when the weather was sunny, and gave lower ratings on rainy days. However, when the researchers encouraged people to attribute their mood to the weather before giving their ratings, they found no significant difference between people who provided ratings on sunny and rainy days (Schwarz & Clore, 1983). This study is extremely interesting as it suggests that when people are aware of the fact that emotions are influencing their moods, they do not let the influence occur. Furthermore, it provides a clear example of how people’s current emotional state influence their judgments.

Xiao-Li Wang and Zhen-Hong Wang (2011)[edit | edit source]

A study by Xiao-Li Wang and Zhen-Hong Wang (2011) found that when individuals are acquainted and are experiencing positive emotions in unrelated setting, the amount of trust is much higher than when experiencing neutral and negative emotions. However, when the individual is a stranger, and they are experiencing positive emotions in an unrelated setting, emotions do not influence trust (Wang & Wang, 2011). From the results, it can be suggested that the influence of emotions on interpersonal trust can be affected by both the setting and the characteristics of trustees.

How emotions are induced

The Autobiographical Emotional Memory Task[edit | edit source]

Human memory systems - Autobiographical Memory

So how do researchers make their subject’s experience the exact emotion they want to study? A number of methods are available to induce emotions in experiments, such as watching movie clips, looking at pictures, interacting with actors, and even hypnosis (Myers & Tingley, 2011). However, the most accurate technique has been found to be the Autobiographical Emotional Memory Task, or AEMT (Myers & Tingley, 2011). This task asks subjects to recall a number of emotions and asks them to focus on the emotion that the researcher wants to study (Myers & Tingley, 2011). One of the most used ways to create memories in individuals is to present them with a series of words, such as chair or bike, and ask them to think of a specific memory that relates to the word presented (Holland & Kensinger, 2010). This technique lets researchers measure both objective measures of autobiographical memory, such as the time it takes to recall negative versus positive events, recent versus distant events, and so on (Holland & Kensinger, 2010). It also allows for individual characteristics of those events, such as ratings of arousal, accuracy, vividness, and so on (Holland & Kensinger, 2010). A similar technique involves asking individuals to recall events that they choose, from a certain criteria, such as memories from a particular time period (Holland & Kensinger, 2010). One criticism of these types of studies is the difficulty in controlling things like accuracy in reporting life events (Holland & Kensinger, 2010).


What to take away[edit | edit source]

Don't make rash decisions after an argument

The literature reviewed has had mixed results regarding how emotions influence an individual’s tendency to trust. However, after looking over the entirety of the studies, there are common points for individual’s to take away.

  1. You should avoid making rash trust decisions and instead make judgments over time and based on a number of interactions (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005).
  2. Don't make rash decisions after arguments. It may be the anger influencing your decisions, not you.
  3. You should understand that emotions can change the way that others judge your trustworthiness too.
  4. Becoming familiar with people is extremely important in establishing and maintaining trust, and allows you to adapt your behaviour to the emotions of the people you interact with (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005). For example, if you get a new supervisor at work, take the time to ask about their weekend, in order to start familiarising yourself and gaining their trust. Similarly, if that same supervisor arrives late to work after being in a minor traffic accident, think about postponing discussions of a pay raise to a time when they are in a better mood.
  5. You should try and moderate the affects your emotions have on your judgment. This can be done by increasing your awareness of your emotions and where they stem from. By also understanding where other people’s emotions are coming from, this will help you understand their actions and also will help to reduce the influence emotions have over judgments and trust (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005).

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Want to read more about some of the topics discussed in this book chapter? Go to:

Understanding and managing anger

Understanding happiness


How negative thinking affects emotion

References[edit | edit source]

Beck, M. (2009). The Trust Test. Retrieved from

DeSteno, D., Petty, R. E., Wegener, D. T., & Rucker, D. D. (2000). Beyond valence in the perception of likelihood: The role of emotion specificity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(3), 397-416. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.78.3.397

Dunn, J. R., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2005). Feeling and believing: The influence of emotion on trust. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 736–748. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.5.736

Forgas, J.P. (1995). Mood and judgment: The Affect Infusion Model (AIM). Psychological Bulletin, 117, 39–66. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.1.39

Glaeser, E. L., Laibson, D. I., Scheinkman, J. A., and Soutter, C. L. (2000). Measuring trust. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 13, 811–846. doi: 10.1162/003355300554926

Holland, A. C., & Kensinger, E. A. (2010). Emotion and Autobiographical Memory. Phys Life Rev., 7(1), 88-131. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2010.01.006

Keltner, D., Ellsworth, P. C., & Edwards, K. (1993). Beyond simple pessimism: Effects of sadness and anger on social perception. Journal of Personal Social Psychology, 64(5), 740-752. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.64.5.740

Mauro, R., Sato, K., & Tucker, J. The role of appraisal in human emotions: A cross-cultural study (1992). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 301-317. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.62.2.301

Myers, D., & Tingley, D. (2011). The Influence of Emotion on Trust. Working Paper, 1-36.

Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L., Mood (1983). Misattribution, and Judgements of Well-Being: Informative and Directive Functions of Affective States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 513-523. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.45.3.513

Xiao-Li Wang, H. & Zhen-Hong Wang, K. (2011). The influence of positive emotions on interpersonal trust: Clues effects. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 43, 1408-1417.

External links[edit | edit source]

Emotions link

Trust link