Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

An Honest Face

By Tim Hannan

The brain decides whether an unfamiliar face is trustworthy, even before it is consciously perceived.

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It is said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but a recent study suggests we might not even get a first chance. It seems that the human brain is biased to making snap judgements on the trustworthiness of someone’s face, even before it is consciously perceived.

Psychologists have long studied the processes involved in recognising and evaluating other people’s faces. From an evolutionary perspective, distinguishing a friend from a stranger would have carried significant evolutionary significance, as would the ability to form a sound judgement about a stranger on the basis of their appearance.

Previous research has shown that an individual’s overall reaction to unfamiliar faces involves a judgement of two separate factors: dominance and trustworthiness. It is also established that people tend to agree about the trustworthiness of unfamiliar faces, allowing for the contribution of cultural differences.

Specific characteristics of human faces appear to be especially responsible for these judgements. Across several studies, faces with high inner eyebrows and prominent cheekbones are associated with a higher degree of trustworthiness.

The authors of a study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience explored the neural processes involved in judgements of trustworthiness. They noted that people evaluate an...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.