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“Typical-looking faces” are seen as more trustworthy 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
posted by Rita Handrich

polish-male-compositeTypical looking faces are not the most attractive in the view of others but they are the most trustworthy. This reminds us of the post we wrote a while back about how to appear intelligent, trustworthy and attractive when you need corrective lenses (i.e., wear rimless glasses).

In this case, (published in the journal Psychological Science) the researchers made a “digital average” of twelve attractive female faces. If you don’t know what a digital average is—the researchers used computers to combine the faces of twelve different women and came up with an “average” of their faces. (As an example, the photo illustrating this post is a digital average of male faces.) Participants in the current research (undergraduate females from universities in Israel) were asked to rate  the (eleven) face “morphs” they were shown on both trustworthiness and attractiveness.

As the face “morphed” closer to the digital average—it was more likely to be judged as trustworthy.

Conversely, the closer the face was to the original ‘attractive’ face, the more attractive it was judged.

The researchers did two additional studies with the same results. The research participants saw the typical (i.e., “digitally averaged”) faces as more trustworthy and the original “attractive female faces” as more attractive. The researchers suggest what this means is that we are more familiar with “typical faces” and thus are more comfortable and likely to find those faces “trustworthy”. The researchers turn an old phrase around into “what is typical is good” when it comes to trustworthiness.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is good news for most people, who we imagine are—on average— average. We have spent our lives learning that “what is beautiful is good” so it is indeed good news to think that if your face is more typical than beautiful, you appear more trustworthy to others. Paradoxically, pretty people in this case might be working under a disadvantage.

And remember—if you wear rimless glasses, you appear both attractive and trustworthy (not to mention intelligent).

Sofer C, Dotsch R, Wigboldus DH, & Todorov A (2015). What is typical is good: the influence of face typicality on perceived trustworthiness. Psychological Science, 26 (1), 39-47 PMID: 25512052

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