Excellent piece at The Situationist about how adaptive instincts bias our decisions to trust based on first impressions. Most of the research in this area has revolved around “trust games” like the Prisoner’s Dilemma where participants are faced with decisions to choose one option over another given certain conditions. But recently Alexander Todorov in the psychology department at Princeton used a different methodology that gets more at how trust is given, or not, in actual social situations. The research suggests that, as far as first impressions go, we’re often a victim of our instincts. From the article:
In a paper published in June, they suggested that our unconscious bias is a byproduct of more adaptive instincts: the features that make a face strike us as trustworthy, if exaggerated, make a face look happy – with arching inner eyebrows and upturned mouths – and an exaggerated “untrustworthy” face looks angry – with a furrowed brow and frown. In this argument, people with “trustworthy” faces simply have, by the luck of the genetic draw, faces that look a little more cheerful to us.
Just as in other cognitive shorthands, we make these judgments quickly and unconsciously — and as a result, Oosterhof and Todorov point out, we can severely and immediately misjudge people. In reality, of course, cheekbone shape and eyebrow arc have no relationship with honesty.
More on this can be found in a recent Boston Globe article, Confidence Game.