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What Your Face Says About How Trustworthy You Are

Would people believe you more if you had higher cheekbones? Two recent studies reveal what your face says about your trustworthiness.

What Your Face Says About How Trustworthy You Are
[Photo: Flickr user Giuseppe Milo]

It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But what about your cheekbones and eyebrows? A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that these two features can indicate whether a person’s perceived as being trustworthy or not.

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

In two experiments, researchers monitored the participants’ neurological responses as they were shown photographs of strangers’ faces and computer-generated faces, the latter being enhanced to make the images appear more trustworthy (with higher inner eyebrows and high cheekbones) or less trustworthy (lower inner eyebrows and shallower cheekbones).

Participants were exposed to the images for only a few milliseconds, before the image was consciously perceived. Researchers then studied images of the participants’ amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotions.

Prior to the MRI testing, the researchers asked a separate group to evaluate the trustworthiness of each face. “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,” Freeman says. “These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood,” he says.

In another study, published in the PNAS Journal (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), researchers from the UK’s University of York asked participants to score 1,000 photos of strangers’ faces online based on a number of social traits such as trustworthiness and intelligence. From there, researchers created cartoon renderings based on the participants’ scores of whether the faces were approachable, dominant, and attractive.

So what does this mean for business leaders? While there’s still a lot we don’t know about the brain, the research suggests that portions of the brain may process social cues more extensively than scientists previously thought. And while we’re not advocating undergoing plastic surgery to lift cheekbones or eyebrows, the latter study (showing the range of facial expressions that indicates a subject’s perceived approachability, dominance, and attractiveness) implies that paying attention to one’s facial expressions can help you appear more approachable, trustworthy, and make a positive first impression.

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About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in Entrepreneur.com, Reuters.com, Today.com, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, BlogHer.com and Fox Business.

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