A neutral face with a slightly upturned mouth and eyebrows makes people look more trustworthy, a new study finds.
The same neutral face with a slightly angry expression is seen as less trustworthy.
The study tested people’s abilities to appear more competent and trustworthy just from their facial expression in photos.
Dr Jonathan Freeman, one of the study’s authors, explained the results:
“Our findings show that facial cues conveying trustworthiness are malleable while facial cues conveying competence and ability are significantly less so.
The results suggest you can influence to an extent how trustworthy others perceive you to be in a facial photo, but perceptions of your competence or ability are considerably less able to be changed.”
We can appear more trustworthy because this is based on expressions we can change.
Whereas we can’t look more competent, because this is based on our facial structure.
The image below shows the different faces that were tested:
Along the top row of faces the expression has been morphed from angry to happy.
Along the bottom row it’s the structure of the face that’s been changed.
Wider facial structure makes people appear more competent.
But there’s not much we can do about our facial structure.
On the other hand, a slight smile makes us appear more trustworthy.
And everyone can manage that (almost!) .
Smiling may also have the added benefit of making you look smarter as well, but only if you’re a man.
Judging the face, fast
People make surprisingly quick, automatic judgements about others from their facial expression.
Talking about a previous study, Dr Freeman said:
“…the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived.
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.
These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood.”
The new study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Hehman et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Jon Moe