Have you ever thought about trust? It’s a hard concept to pin down: What do we mean when we talk about trust, how does it affect our day to day living? This blog takes a quick look at how we might define trust, and what this has to do with emotions.

Defining trust

Despite there being an extensive amount of research in relation to trust, it is not easily defined. This is because ones perspective of trust depends on the research aims. For instance, there is research that looks at trust as a strategy that happens between people, where trust does not exist unless at least two people are interacting. Others see it as a form of reasoning; to decide whether someone is trustworthy or not. Research also looks at trust in systems, technology and politics. Much of trust research is interested in behavioural economics, where it is considered important to understand how a lack of trust could cause weaknesses in economic efficacy.

Even when considering trust economically, research has found that perceived trust increases well-being amongst communities. Trust then is something that is important to positive relationships. However, often research simplifies the meaning of trust to make studies easier to control. It is argued that this misses the opportunity to study trust as a complex and emotional construction, unique to each person. Trust, from the perspective of emotions, becomes something that changes and responds to the circumstances that one finds oneself in. This theory however is much harder to measure and study. Nevertheless, we need to embrace this complexity if we are to truly understand what each person feels when they trust (or mistrust).


Emotions are as complex as trust. Some research suggests there are basic emotions that exist in all of us, including in other animals. These are emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and happiness. It is still debated however whether we feel emotions the same as one another. Some studies show differences in one’s culture means we feel different emotions. For instance, if you live in a culture that is very focused on community and connectedness, there may not be a word for loneliness, and these people may find it hard to feel such an emotion when a researcher asks them to. Another piece of research demonstrates as one ages ones emotional responses change. In fact, older people tend to react less to negative emotions, and have more positive ones. These areas of research suggest to me that emotions are something that is constructed individually, based on one’s experiences and are developed through one’s culture. Emotions are definitely complex then!

Emotions and trust

So what does this mean when thinking about trust? If trust is a basic part of our connections to one another, and it impacts on our well-being, how do our emotions help or hinder our ability to trust? Imagine a situation where you need to trust someone to do something, or have you ever gone somewhere new only to feel uncomfortable at the last minute? According to research, you are appraising the situation and using subtle cues from others, plus tuning into yourself  to make decisions as to whether you can trust or not. Emotions play a big part in this decision making. Every day we make decisions on whether to trust: to trust that no-one drives into us when we are driving down the road; to putting our faith into our spouses to remain faithful and loving. Without knowing it we are using emotions continuously to judge situations and make decisions.

Here’s a way you can begin to tune into your emotions to see how you make trust decisions: stop every now and again throughout your day, and tune into your emotions. What are you feeling? How are they helping you make decisions on what to do and how to react? Reflect on how much they help you to make decisions to trust others.


About the author: Lisa Jones


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