The feeling when you think that someone is not truthful and does not have good intentions. You feel the need to be very careful what you do or say to this person.

You feel distrust when you suspect that someone may mislead or cheat you for their own gain. Certain social interactions involve putting some part of your wellbeing in the hands of another person. For instance, when you submit yourself to the care of a doctor, when you pay in advance for a product, or simply when you lend a book to someone, you want to feel that this action will not have adverse effects.

The concepts of trust and distrust evolved in a social context. Often, it is mutually beneficial for people to cooperate1. On the other hand, if one person cooperates and the other person cheats, the cheating person may be even better off3. So even if there is a collective benefit to cooperate, there may be an individual motive to harm or cheat. However, if someone is cheated by another person, they are unlikely to cooperate with that person again. The emotional trust system is supposed to help us determine whom we should cooperate with.

There are several factors that determine whether you feel distrust toward someone3. First of all, it depends on your previous experiences with the person, or if you lack those, by what you have heard of others. People may also make judgments based on personal characteristics or the group that the other person belongs to (e.g., some people invariably distrust politicians). Secondly, a person estimates the motive of the person they distrust: How much would they gain by cheating me, and how much would they gain by being honest? Thirdly, people look at their own situation: How much could I lose by trusting you, and what could I gain?

In the comic, Patrick offers to show Murphy’s presentation to their boss. However, Patrick’s reputation and the fact that he is already calling it ‘our idea’ are not good omens.

Movie clips


Typical expressions

“I don’t believe you.”

“What are her intentions?”

Murphy's bad day

Comparisons with other emotions

Distrust & Anxiety

Distrust can be considered as a type of anxiety that specifically applies to another person’s motives and trustworthiness. Like anxiety, distrust is often not based on concrete and clear information, but rather on a hunch or gut feeling. Most people have learned to interpret certain signals as possible evidence that something may be wrong about a situation (leading to anxiety) or about a person (leading to distrust).

Sources and further reading