When deciding who we can trust with our money, we rely more on looks than any other information, according to new research.
After researchers from Warwick Business School, the University College London and Dartmouth College carried out a series of experiments to see if people made decisions to trust others based on their faces, they found people are more likely to invest money in someone whose face is generally perceived as trustworthy, even when they are given negative information about the person.
The researchers used a computer algorithm to create a set of 20 pairs of faces at opposing ends of the trustworthiness scale. The computer software modifies the apparent trustworthiness of faces by altering their features, so the researchers were able to manipulate the unfakeable features — those related to the shape of the face — that make a face look trustworthy or untrustworthy.
They then embarked on a series of trust games with volunteers.
Each volunteer was given some money and told they could invest as much or as little as they wanted with 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. This gave the participants an incentive to invest only in trustees who could be expected to return more than the invested amount, the researchers noted.
What they found is that 13 out of 15 volunteers invested more 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 percent higher, the researchers said.
“Trustees with good and bad histories benefitted equally from trustworthy-looking facial features,” said Chris Olivola, Ph.D., from the University of Warwick’s Warwick Business School. “The temptation to judge strangers by their faces is hard to resist.”
Trustworthiness is one of the most important traits for social and economic interaction, he added, noting that people could make some potentially costly mistakes by just relying on whether the person looks trustworthy.
“It seems we are still willing to go with our own instincts about whether we think someone looks like we can trust them,” he said.
Source: University of Warwick