“People who are anxious…continue to trust and invest in people who display increasingly untrustworthy behavior.”
“People who don’t have anxiety are good at updating their belief that someone is trustworthy when the data begin to say, actually, this person isn’t as trustworthy as they were before,”
“People who don’t have anxiety are good at updating their belief that someone is trustworthy when the data begin to say, actually, this person isn’t as trustworthy as they were before…But people with anxiety struggle with this. They try to give people more and more money even though they’re getting signals that these people are less trustworthy than they originally thought.”
“People with anxiety trust others a little too much…People are remarkably adept at avoiding exploitation at the hands of others, unless they suffer from anxiety…healthy people easily recognize when those around them become increasingly untrustworthy—and they react, appropriately enough, by pulling away. But researchers found that the same wasn’t true for those who have significant levels of anxiety.
“We know from previous research that learning and uncertainty are very closely linked…This study demonstrates that, if we do not have anxiety, we’re actually able to learn more once we detect uncertainty in social interactions, which helps us to avoid being exploited and to learn who can be trusted. With every uncertain social situation we navigate, with every change in trustworthiness we observe in people, we are fine-tuning our opinions of them and adjusting our relationships with them accordingly.”
Researchers noticed that the healthy people’s behaviors shifted even more quickly in the trust game than…they reacted to changing behaviors in the other “players”…quickly…and quickly learning…Their fast reflexes suggested to the researchers that most healthy people have an easier time adapting to uncertain social situations than to non-social uncertainty.
“For a long time, there has been debate about whether the way we process and learn from information in the non-social domain is different than how we learn about people…we’re uniquely adept at what’s called ‘reward learning’ in social situations—that even though the underlying neural circuitry is largely the same for social and non-social learning, social learning in particular seems to recruit a set of mechanisms that makes us very flexible and quick to adapt when we detect uncertainty or threat in the environment.”
But not all of the participants were as quick to adjust their behavior. Participants who had reported symptoms of general anxiety disorder…continue to invest in relationships that were no longer paying off for them
Why did the high-anxiety participants adapt better on the slot machines than in the trust game? Were the anxious participants aware of the changing trustworthiness of the other “players” in the trust game—and if so, why did they choose to ignore the behavioral changes? Researchers say it wasn’t clear what exactly was happening in anxious people’s brains as they played the trust game, and they hope future research will shed light on their thought processes.
“People with anxiety could be unable to detect changes in the social environment, or they could be making a conscious decision to invest in a good relationship rather than protect themselves economically,” Lamba says. “That’s something we would want to tease out in follow-up work. There could be a lot of variation in where the decision-making mechanism diverges—it could be the case that not all anxious people think alike.”