Tag Archives: trust

The brain judges face trustworthiness even when we can’t consciously see it

A new study adds to a body of evidence that suggests the brain is involved in a unconscious process of screening human faces for patterns that suggest trustworthiness or otherwise. Namely, our brains are busy judging other people based on their physical features even when we aren’t even get the chance to properly see those features.

Hardcoded prejudice

“Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived,” explains Jonathan Freeman, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the study’s senior author.

“The results are consistent with an extensive body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness,” adds Freeman, who conducted the study as a faculty member at Dartmouth College.

The researchers directed their efforts on the amygdala  – the part of the brain known to be heavily involved in human social and emotional behavior. Previously, the amydala was shown to become active when judging the trustworthiness of faces, but it wasn’t clear if the structure was active when the signal (visual face cues) didn’t reach perceptual awareness.

[ALSO READ] Intelligent people more likely to trust others

To study how the amygdala responded to such stimuli, the researchers presented a series of photographs to study participants in order to gauge their activity levels. The photographs featured both real human faces  and computer generated ones with various degrees of trustworthiness, like low, neutral or high. The computer general images were based on proven metrics for trustworthiness:  higher inner eyebrows and pronounced cheekbones are seen as trustworthy and lower inner eyebrows and shallower cheekbones are seen as untrustworthy.


The researchers quickly showed the study’s subjects images of real faces as well as artificially generated faces whose trustworthiness cues could be manipulated. Image: Journal of Neuroscience

Before the actual experiments, the researchers tested how accurate their images were at soliciting trust, so they asked a separate group to rate them. Indeed, subjects strongly agreed on the level of trustworthiness conveyed by each given face. Onto the actual experiment, the researchers presented yet another group with the same images, with some key distinctions. This time, the volunteers viewed the faces while inside a brain scanner and, most importantly, they were only briefly exposed to the faces. Each image was shown as a flash, appearing on the screen for only a millisecond – definitely not enough to consciously recognize any features – and was followed by a ‘backward max’. Backward masking works by presenting subjects with an irrelevant “mask” image that immediately follows an extremely brief exposure to a face, which is thought to terminate the brain’s ability to further process the face and prevent it from reaching awareness.

[IMPORTANT] What are the mechanics of trustworthiness? Ironically, we need to ask a robot

In total, two experiments were performed: one where the subjects were screened for amygdala activity under flash exposure to faces, and another in response to a fully continuous spectrum of trustworthiness. The findings suggest that even though the subjects never become aware of the faces they were exposed to, their amygdalas were hard at work both tracking and assessing face trustworthiness signals. Apparently, first impressions are made in the millionth of a second.

“These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood,” observes Freeman. “The amygdala is able to assess how trustworthy another person’s face appears without it being consciously perceived.”

Findings were reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Intelligent people are more likely to trust others

Is there a connection between intelligence and how likely you are to trust people? According to Oxford researchers, the answer to that question is a definite “yes!”.


They based their research on an analysis of the General Social Survey, a nationally representative public opinion survey carried out in the United States; they say that one explanation could be that more intelligent individuals are better at judging character and so they tend to form relationships with people who are less likely to betray them – and they’re naturally better at this. Another, perhaps a more pragmatic explanation is that they are better at understanding when their interests align with those of other people and therefore tend to trust them.

It’s not the first time the implications of intelligence are studied in regards to interpersonal relationships. The authors say the research is significant because social trust contributes to the success of important social institutions, as well as the welfare of the economy and welfare systems. Furthermore, research showed that individuals who trust others report better health and greater overall happiness.

The Oxford researchs however casts those previous studies in a different light; they showed that the better health and improved happiness are not related directly to intelligence, but rather to the trust they place in other people. Basically being smarter encourages you to trust people more, and trusting people more makes you healthier and happier. The finding also confirms that trust is a valuable resource for an individual, and is not simply a proxy for intelligence.

Lead author Noah Carl, from the Department of Sociology, said:

‘Intelligence is shown to be linked with trusting others, even after taking into account factors like marital status, education and income. This finding supports what other researchers have argued, namely that being a good judge of character is a distinct part of human intelligence which evolved through natural selection. However, there are other possible interpretations of the evidence, and further research is needed to disentangle them.’

Researcher Professor Francesco Billari, also from the Department of Sociology, added:

‘People who trust others seem to report better health and greater happiness. The study of social trust therefore has wider implications in public health, governmental policy and private charity, and there are good reasons to think that governments, religious groups and other civic organisations should try to cultivate more trust in society. Social trust has become an increasingly important topic for academics, who want to understand the causes of better health and greater happiness within society.’

The paper ‘Generalised trust and intelligence in the United States’ by Noah Carl and Francesco Billari will be published by PLOS ONE. Once live, the link to the full paper is at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091786

Nexi roobt

What are the mechanics of trustworthiness? You need to ask a robot, ironically

Nexi roobt

Trust is in your genes. Humans are social beings, and from the dawn of the first community humans had to work together in order to survive. One of the most important elements of social interactions is trust, and evaluating trust has becoming deeply rooted in our subconscious. For years psychologists have been studying what exactly causes people to award trust, but the exact mechanisms which trigger the decision are painted in blurry lines.

A new study from scientists at Northeastern University employed a human-controlled baby-blue eyed robot called Nexi in order to try to answer what forms trust or distrust.

Something about that person makes me trust/distrust him” is a statement which David DeSteno along with collaborators from MIT and Cornell University have sought to deconstruct from its core. In the first part of their experiment, the researchers enlisted 86 North­eastern stu­dent and had them interact through either face-to-face or through a web-based application.

To spice things up, DeSteno had participants play the classic prisoner game. The volunteers were matched in pairs for the game, in which you could win money. The participant could either betray his partner and take all the money, or work together and each leave with half. The latter option was popular among pairs where participants trusted each other, and not surprisingly among pairs were interaction was face-to-face.

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According to the researchers, in the absence of reliable information about a person, we rely on nonverbal cues to predict that person’s likely actions. You work with what you’ve got. Anyway, scientists, scam artists and politicians have known for a long time that even the slightest, minute non-verbal gestures are important to forming trust. What are the cues that convey trustworthiness though?

“Scientists haven’t been able to unlock the cues to trust because they’ve been going about it the wrong way,” DeSteno said. “There’s no one golden cue. Context and coordination of movements is what matters.”

In the experiment described above, classic cues were present, but since participants fidgeted, the psychologists couldn’t establish if these signs of interaction, or simple nervous tics or byproducts of anxiousness. Here’s where Nexi came to the rescue. Developed by MIT, this baby-eyed humanoid robot was put face to face with participants. During the interaction, the robot was remotely controlled by two persons. The same game was played, and during this whole time Nexi was directed to perform certain known cues which warrant distrust like leaning away, crossing one’s arms, touching one’s hands together and touching one’s own body.

The researchers found that each non-verbal cue when made in isolation didn’t mean anything, however when grouped they had a significant influence on how the game ensued.

“Certain nonverbal gestures trigger emotional reactions we’re not consciously aware of, and these reactions are enormously important for understanding how interpersonal relationships develop,” said Dr. Robert Frank from Cornell University.

“The fact that a robot can trigger the same reactions confirms the mechanistic nature of many of the forces that influence human interaction.”

Now, I’m not sure how much the fact that the participants interacted with a robot for 10 minutes had on the results, which were transposed to human behavior. After all, the researchers admitted that trustworthiness was different when interactions were made face-to-face versus online. Still, if anything this study shows that robots are more prepared to be socially integrated than anytime.

The findings were recently published in the journal Psychological Science.

story via Discovery news ; source