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The Influence of Emotion on Trust

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

C. Daniel Myers*
Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455
Dustin Tingley
Department of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138 e-mail:


Political scientists frequently wish to test hypotheses about the effects of specific emotions on political behavior. However, commonly used experimental manipulations tend to have collateral effects on emotions other than the targeted emotion, making it difficult to ascribe outcomes to any single emotion. In this letter, we propose to address this problem using causal mediation analysis. We illustrate this approach using an experiment examining the effect of emotion on dyadic trust, as measured by the trust game. Our findings suggest that negative emotions can decrease trust, but only if those negative emotions make people feel less certain about their current situation. Our results suggest that only anxiety, a low-certainty emotion, has a negative impact on trust, whereas anger and guilt, two emotions that differ in their control appraisals but induce the same high level of certainty, appear to have no effect on trusting behavior. Importantly, we find that failing to use causal mediation analysis would ascribe a positive effect of anxiety on trust, demonstrating the value of this approach.

Symposium on Methods for Emotion Experiments
Copyright © The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology 

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Authors' note: Replication data are available on the Harvard Dataverse at See Myers and Tingley (2016). Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis Web site. The authors thank Rebecca Morton, Shana Gadarian, Bethany Albertson, participants in the Southern Political Science Association 2011 Mini-Conference on Experimental Methods, several anonymous reviewers, and the editors of this symposium for their helpful comments. This research was supported by a grant from the Princeton Laboratory for Experimental Social Science.


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