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Self-Control and Trust


Explanations > Trust > Self-Control and Trust

Description | Example | Discussion | So what



If you want somebody to trust you, then it helps if you can show that you have a clear ability to control yourself. This not only includes a general self-control but also the ability to control short-term impulses.

In doing so, it can be more effective if this process is visible, such that you are seen to be experiencing inner conflicts and emotions and yet clearly displaying self-control, with a calmer outer behavior. Keep this subtle, with muted body language, perhaps with less movement, pauses, slight facial expressions and so on.


Righetti and Finkenauer (2011)  got subjects to read about a student with money problems who either resisted the urge to buy music or gave in and bought a lot of music. The subjects rated the people who did not buy music as more trustworthy.

In another test with romantic couples, The most forgiving, reliable, and successful people were rated by their partners to having the greatest self-control and being the most trustworthy.


One of the key elements of trustworthiness is predictability. If I can tell what you are going to do with a good degree of reliability, then I am more likely to trust you. And if it seems you are unlikely to explode or otherwise suddenly react emotionally to external events, then that predictability is improved.

Self-control also applies to aggression. If I think you have good self-control, I will feel safer around you and believe you are less likely to attack me.

Impulse control is not the same as longer-term general self-control. It has been shown, for example that when aroused, people will often do things that they would not normally do (or say think that they would do, if asked when not aroused).

Giving some indication of inner conflict may well help when observers may otherwise not realize that you are applying self-control. Muted body language allows the display of both the experienced emotion and the control being applied.

Willpower is a key way to achieve self-control, turning your determination inwards to either (a) make yourself do what you might not do, or (b) stopping yourself from doing something you feel like doing, but know that it would be wrong or counterproductive, especially in losing trust from others.

Self-control can be improved with deliberate practice. This provides another route by which people can learn to be more trustworthy and to be seen as such.

So what?

If you want others to trust you, show that you are able to control yourself, including handling negative emotions and not making rash decisions. This can be more effective if they see you struggling a little with emotions and being able to control your anger, fear, and so on.

See also

Willpower, Prediction, Emotional Intelligence, Emotional body language


Righetti, F. and Finkenauer, C. (2011). If you are able to control yourself, I will trust you: The role of perceived self-control in interpersonal trust. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 5, 874-886.


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