Trust this face

Trust is an ephemeral, lace-winged butterfly that dances on the edge of our perceptions. Just ask any partner who has transgressed or been transgressed against. We build trust in deep relationships but how do we decide whether to trust someone that we have just met? Sometimes we have to make those instant decisions and we look for signals that a person may be trustworthy or not. A key signal is a person’s face but what makes us trust a face may surprise you.

To study this researchers digitally combined 92 pictures of female faces to create an “average” face. They also created an extremely attractive face by combining 12 of the most attractive faces from another set of faces that had already been rated for appearance. These two faces, the average and attractive face, were then mixed together in differing proportions to create faces that ranged from least attractive to average to most attractive.

Then, female subjects were asked to rate each face either on attractiveness or trustworthiness on a scale of one to nine.

The results showed that the most average looking faces were those judged as being the most trustworthy.

So attractiveness and appeal do not translate into trust. This probably happens because the averageness of a face indicates it is culturally similar to the viewer and we cling to that similarity as an indicator that trust may be warranted.

In a world where all things seem to come to attractive people, this may balance the scales a little. Research shows that attractive people do get hired more easily, get promotions sooner, and have significantly higher salaries (around three to four per cent higher). Yes, the world may be an attractive person’s oyster but at least we don’t trust them.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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