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People Judge Trustworthiness By Appearance

We trust people with our money based more on their looks than their reputation.

If some guy showed up with a hot investment opportunity—“a sure thing”—how would you know whether to trust him with your money? You might consider the way he’s dressed, or whether he avoids eye contact while talking. Or you’d ask around to see if he has burned any of your friends.

All those cues are important, but in deciding whether to trust him, you are more likely to rely upon “unfakeable facial features,” according to researchers from the U.K. and U.S. These features—unlike hairstyle, facial expressions, or clothing—can’t be changed, except with cosmetic surgery.

To test this, researchers used a computer program to create 20 pairs of “trustworthy” and “untrustworthy” faces. They asked participants to decide how much money to invest with each of the identities represented by the 40 faces.

Thirteen out of 15 people invested more money with “trustworthy” identities, giving them 42 percent more money. This trend occurred when using both virtual and real money.

Few of us invest without knowing something about the person we are giving our money to. The researchers took this into account in another experiment by providing the participants with good or bad histories about the identities.

A bad history decreased how much people wanted to invest, but participants still invested six percent more money in identities with trustworthy faces.

In spite of having concrete information about the reliability of a person, we still judge people by their faces. “It seems we are still willing to go with our own instincts about whether we think someone looks like we can trust them,” study author Dr. Chris Olivola told the University of Warwick.

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