Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Facing the facts on looks

Research shows that trust in a person is a matter of instinct and subliminally influences rather than a conscious and logical process, and that a persons face is an important factor in judging whether you trust the person or not. 

In one experiment conducted by Robin J. Tanner and Ahreum Maeng (both University of Wisconsin- Madison, unfamiliar faces were morphed with those of two famous individuals: George W. Bush and Tiger Woods. “We digitally create composite faces that are made up of 35 percent of the celebrity face and 65 percent of unknown model faces,” the authors write. “When individuals view these morphed faces they universally fail to consciously recognize the presence of the celebrity images and instead believe they are viewing the faces of unfamiliar people.” Even though they weren’t aware of the similarity, participants in the authors’ experiments rated the celebrity-morphed images as being more trustworthy than control faces. “It becomes clear that individuals are subliminally influenced by celebrity facial cues,” the authors write.
Even though the "celebrity part" of the faces were undistinguishable from the control faces, people rated the celebrity celebrity-morphed images as being more trustworthy than control faces. “It becomes clear that individuals are subliminally influenced by celebrity facial cues,” the authors write. In another experiment a sales person were morphed with Tiger Woods, and during the midst of Tiger-gate, the trust towards that person fell. “We believe the scandal led individuals to automatically experience a stronger avoid motivation toward the Tiger-morphed salesperson face", the authors write. 
In another experiment, conducted by Warwick Business School, the University College London and Dartmouth College, USA, results showed how the same face with slight manipulation yielded very different results in perceived trust, and that looks mattered more than information on negative information, given about the person. The experiment were conducted as a "trust game" Each volunteer was given a sum of money and told they could invest any part of the amount in a trustee whose face appeared on the screen. Any amount they invested 
would be tripled and volunteers were told it was then up to the trustee        
to decide how much to send back to them. Thus participants had an incentive to invest only in trustees who could be expected to return more than the invested amount.

The researchers found that 13 out of 15 participants invested more, on average, in the trustworthy identities. In a second experiment, the researchers gave the volunteers information about whether the trustees had good or bad histories. Even with this inside information, the average amount invested in those who looked ‘trustworthy’ was 6% higher. Dr Chris Olivola from the University of Warwick’s Warwick Business School said: “Trustees with good and bad histories benefitted equally from trustworthy-looking facial features. The temptation to judge strangers by their faces is hard to resist. Trustworthiness is one of the most important traits for social and economic interactions and our study examines whether people take potentially costly actions in line with their face-based trustworthiness judgments.
“It seems we are still willing to go with our own instincts about whether we think someone looks like we can trust them.”
Sources: Robin J. Tanner and Ahreum Maeng. “A Tiger and a President: Imperceptible Celebrity Facial Cues Influence Trust and Preference.” Picture reference: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034293.g002 

Unfakeable Facial Configurations Affect Strategic Choices in Trust Games with or without Information about Past Behaviour’, Constantin Rezlescu, Brad Duchaine, Christopher Y Olivola, Nick Chater. PLoS ONE