Theodore (Ted) Stark
Apr 8 · 2 min read

Being in a bad mood has its consequences. These bad moods are direct (arguing with a loved one) or incidental (just upset about traffic during your commute). In a new study out of the University of Zurich, being in a bad mood may also influence how much we trust others.

The study, which appeared in the journal Science Advances, exposed 41 participants to a well-established threat-of-shock method where the participants were threatened with (but only sometimes given) an unpleasant electrical shock. This accounted for the consistent bad mood. Within this method, participants engaged in a trust game involving decisions about how much money to invest in a stranger (who may repay the investment or keep the full financing for themselves). During the game, participants had their arousal levels monitored via Galvanic Skin Response (GSR). After the game had concluded, participants also had their neural activity observed via functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while making additional trust decisions.

The findings revealed that participants had significantly less trust for others (direct or indirect) when they were anxious about receiving a shock. This was interesting because the threat of being shocked had nothing to do with the trust game in which they were involved. Further, the fMRI data showed the region of the brain which is also responsible for social interactions, social cognition, and prediction of others’ behavior was influenced while being in a bad mood (they did not see this impact when participants were in a good mood).

These data suggest there may be more consequences of being in a bad mood than once thought. When we are in a bad mood, it can (consciously or not) affect many decisions we had never considered. Makes you wonder about the moods of judges, voters, even the person who left that negative review, doesn’t it?

This was Article 113 from the Studio Quick Facts Series.


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Delgado, M. R., Frank, R. H., & Phelps, E. A. (2005). Perceptions of moral character modulate the neural systems of reward during the trust game. Nature neuroscience, 8(11), 1611.

Engelmann, J. B., Meyer, F., Ruff, C. C., & Fehr, E. (2019). The neural circuitry of affect-induced distortions of trust. Science advances, 5(3), eaau3413.

Phelps, E. A., Lempert, K. M., & Sokol-Hessner, P. (2014). Emotion and decision making: multiple modulatory neural circuits. Annual review of neuroscience, 37, 263–287.

University of Zurich. (2019, March 15). Negative emotions can reduce our capacity to trust. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved March 15, 2019 from

Studio Quick Facts

The bi-weekly series focused on the science behind how humans interact with technology.

Theodore (Ted) Stark

Written by

Empirically minded User Experience professional with a bias towards the science that informs human-computer interaction.

Studio Quick Facts

The bi-weekly series focused on the science behind how humans interact with technology.

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