Easier to look trustworthy than competent: Study

New York, June 19 (IANS) It is easier for us to alter our facial features in order to look more trustworthy than to look more competent, says a study.

We can alter our facial features in ways that make us look more trustworthy, but do not have the same ability to appear more competent, a team of New York University psychology researchers has found.

The study points to both the limits and potential we have in visually representing ourselves across dating and career-networking sites to social media posts.

“Our results show that facial cues conveying trustworthiness are malleable while facial cues conveying competence and ability are significantly less,” said senior study author Jonathan Freeman.

“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.”

This distinction is due to the fact that judgments of trustworthiness are based on the face’s dynamic musculature that can be slightly altered.

For instance, a neutral face resembling a happy expression is likely to be seen as trustworthy and a neutral face resembling an angry expression likely to be seen as untrustworthy – even when faces are not overtly smiling or angered.

But perceptions of ability are drawn from a face’s skeletal structure, which cannot be changed.

In the study, female and male subjects examined both photos and computer-generated images of adult males.

In the first, subjects looked at five distinct photos of 10 adult males of different ethnicities.

Here, subjects’ perceptions of trustworthiness of those pictured varied significantly, with happier looking faces seen as more trustworthy and angrier looking faces seen as more untrustworthy.

However, the subjects’ perceptions of ability, or competence, remained static – judgments were same no matter which photo of the individual was being judged.

A second experiment replicated the first, but here, subjects evaluated 40 computer-generated faces that slowly evolved from “slightly happy” to “slightly angry”, resulting in 20 different neutral instances of each individual face that slightly resembled a happy or angry expression.

As with the first experiment, the subjects’ perceptions of trustworthiness paralleled the emotion of the faces – the slightly happier the face appeared, the more likely he was seen to be trustworthy and vice versa for faces appearing slightly angrier.

However, once again, perceptions of ability remained unchanged.

The results appeared in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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