Negative Emotions Make Us More Distrustful, Research Says

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Negative Emotions Make Us More Distrustful, Research Says

Negative emotions can add more stress in our body and mind which can lead to health issues if they become overwhelming/ Photo By Kamil Macniak via 123RF


Every day, people get to encounter different situations and experiences. It has come to our knowledge that experiencing negative emotions such as anger, frustration, stress, and many more are part of us being humans. Sometimes, people tend to ignore or avoid these emotions because it feels like it will do us no good. Although we can all learn to manage and cope with negative emotions, it will affect us some other way. 

In fact, an article by the Very Well Mind states that negative emotions can add more stress in our body and mind which can lead to health issues if they become overwhelming or chronic. Not only can these unwanted feelings negatively impact our health, but they may also affect how we behave and interact with other people. What's worse is that these negative emotions are triggered by even the smallest reason to make a person distrustful. 

Having trust is extremely significant in a person's life since it will determine how strong their relationship with other people will be. Without trust, people are more likely to shy away from communicating and creating relationships. In fact, a recent study which was published in the journal, Science Advances, revealed that negative emotions caused by even just an incidental frustration can damage a person's trust. 

The Threat-Of-Shock Method

While experiencing negative emotions has some positive impacts in the future especially on people's growth and maturity, feeling too much of those is not good for us. A recent study conducted by scientists from the University of Zurich (UZH) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) found that an individual's ability to trust can significantly be suppressed because of incidental emotions. 

According to an article by Bustle, the researchers aimed to know whether "incidental aversive effect can influence trust behavior and the brain networks relevant for supporting social cognition." They called those negative emotions 'incidental' because they were only caused by small circumstances which are likely to be experienced by people in their daily lives. Some examples include spilling a cup of coffee, getting stuck in a traffic jam, and so on. 

The researchers found out that getting shocked and triggered by unwanted events make people trust less although it had nothing to do with their decision to trust. To further examine this study, UvA neuroeconomist Jan Engelmann collaborated with three UZH neuroeconomists, namely, Friederike Meyer, Christian Ruff, and Ernst Fehr. An article by Science Daily reported that the team used the well-established threat-of-shock method to know how incidental aversive affect can influence a person's trust behavior towards other people. 

Negative emotions caused by even just an incidental frustration can damage a person's trust/ Photo By Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF


The experiment was participated in by 41 people who were all given an unpleasant electrical shock. The researchers gave them a situation where they had to decide while concurrently being threatened. According to the team, this method can induce anticipatory anxiety. Thus, they found out that participants who received a shock showed anxiousness and significantly trusted other people less.

Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Aside from the threat-of-shock method, the researchers also used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to record the participants' brain responses while they made trust decisions. According to an article by Mind Body Green, the device showed their negative emotional state which directly influenced their brain function. In fact, their temporoparietal junction (TPJ) was found to be "significantly suppressed by a negative effect." That brain region is involved in understanding other people's thinking. 

Moreover, connectivity between the TPJ and the amygdala had also seen significant reactions. In an interview, authors Jan Engelmann and Christian Ruff said, "These results show that negative emotions can significantly impact our social interactions, and specifically how much we trust others. They also reveal the underlying effects of a negative effect on brain circuitry: Negative affect suppresses the social cognitive neural machinery important for understanding and predicting others' behavior."

Engelmann also added that the results of their study showed how people approach social interactions can significantly be affected by negative emotions. Thus, concluding that negative emotions, even if they are incidental, can distort a person's decision-making ability. 

Negative Emotions Affect a Person's Trust

Studies like this show that any kind of emotion can affect a person's brain and how they interact with other people. It's crucial for us to be able to trust not only to maintain healthy relationships with others but also with ourselves. An individual feeling any kind of negative emotion caused by incidental frustrations can lead to unnecessary self-isolation and conflict. 

Thus, it's important that people acknowledge this weakness that human beings have. One step in making sure that how you interact and socialize with people will not be affected by negativity is learning to deal with it. Developing positive ways to respond to those kinds of experiences will extremely help. In fact, psychologists found out that positive emotional states such as joy, gratitude, and hope can benefit people in many ways. 



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