Friend or foe: The effect of implicit trustworthiness judgments in social decision-making

Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.
Cognition (Impact Factor: 3.63). 09/2008; 108(3):796-803. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.07.002
Source: PubMed


The human face appears to play a key role in signaling social intentions and usually people form reliable and strong impressions on the basis of someone's facial appearance. Therefore, facial signals could have a substantial influence on how people evaluate and behave towards another person in a social interaction, such as an interactive risky decision-making game. Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that social behavior plays a crucial role in human decision-making. Although previous research has demonstrated that explicit social information about one's partner can influence decision-making behavior, such as knowledge about the partner's moral status, much less is known about how implicit facial social cues affect strategic decision-making. One particular social cue that may be especially important in assessing how to interact with a partner is facial trustworthiness, a rapid, implicit assessment of the likelihood that the partner will reciprocate a generous gesture. In this experiment, we tested the hypothesis that implicit processing of trustworthiness is related to the degree to which participants cooperate with previously unknown partners. Participants played a Trust Game with 79 hypothetical partners who were previously rated on subjective trustworthiness. In each game, participants made a decision about how much to trust their partner, as measured by how much money they invested with that partner, with no guarantee of return. As predicted, people invested more money in partners who were subjectively rated as more trustworthy, despite no objective relationship between these factors. Moreover, the relationship between the amount of money offered seemed to be stronger for trustworthy faces as compared to untrustworthy faces. Overall, these data indicate that the perceived trustworthiness is a strong and important social cue that influences decision-making.

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Available from: Mascha van 't Wout, Jan 09, 2014
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    • "A challenge in everyday life is to figure out in whom you can place your trust. Decisions about whom to trust are motivated by the evaluation of stable facial traits [1], similarity to kin [2], and perceived trustworthiness [3]. The brain mechanisms that underlie social decision making are less well known and have implications for diverse fields of human behavior including healthcare, economics, politics and even the legal system. "
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    • "Given its unique evolutionary and social significance, face perception is probably the most multifaceted visual perceptual skill in humans. In addition to invariant information such as identity and gender, faces convey a large amount of subtle, variant, changeable information such as age (Ishai, 2008), expressions (Fox et al., 2000), intentions (van’t Wout and Sanfey, 2008) and mood (Adolphs, 2003) upon which human observers rely for social interaction and communication. A wealth of behavioral literature posits that this efficient and multifaceted processing of faces is accomplished in a qualitatively different fashion compared to the processing of other object categories. "
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    • "As liars may try to control their expressive behaviors (DePaulo et al., 2003), liars could generally be perceived as less trustworthy. People judge trustworthiness of others very rapidly (Willis and Todorov, 2006), and base their social decision-making on it (van ’t Wout and Sanfey, 2008). People are also especially good at judging someone’s warmth—an indication of the favorability of another persons’ intentions toward us—as compared to their competence (Fiske et al., 2007). "
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