Face value of trustworthiness

When most people think of someone they trust, it’s usually someone they have known for a long time and have developed a relationship with through shared experiences. But research by a Temple assistant professor says otherwise.

Brian Holtz, an assistant professor at the Fox School of Business’ human resource management department, recently concluded through three different studies that CEOs with specific facial features are deemed as more trustworthy and are less likely to receive blame for a company’s financial misfortunes.

The first study, hosted at qualtrics.com, surveyed 609 adults, around 80 percent of whom were employed. The participants were asked to read a short bio of an employer they were to imagine themselves working for, alongside a photo of the employer purposely chosen to look “trustworthy” or “untrustworthy” by the research team. Those reading the bios rated the employers on how much they trusted them.

After the first segment, the participants read an upcoming “pay cut” plan the fake employer was going to implement for the employees because of the company’s financial situation, and again they rated the employer on fairness and how the situation was handled.

Those who saw the picture of the “trustworthy” face were more forgiving toward their employer and showed sympathy toward the situation, while those who were shown the “untrustworthy” face were more likely to rate the employer poorly and see his pay cut resolution as unfair.

Holtz, based on this research, studied which certain facial features made someone seem more trustworthy.

“The most talked about and common sign of an untrustworthy face is a furrowed brow,” Holtz said. “Downward sloped lips, or a grimace, is often viewed as less trustworthy as well.”

“The most common viewed ‘facial cue’ as trustworthy is usually a person who is considered to have a ‘baby face,’ or someone who looks very young and innocent,” he added.

His main research, which he has been involved with for a decade, revolves around three core topics: trust, perception of fairness and employee behavior like time-wasting and insubordination. His interest in these subjects first started when he was stuck on the idea that certain “cues” are subjective. He is currently working on studying employee behavior.

From the three studies, Holtz concluded that “fairness is in the eye of the beholder.” He said trust is established almost immediately upon meeting someone, and it can be linked directly to the way that person looks.

“Neurosciences also uncovered how rapidly we shape our perceptions of others,” Holtz said. “Within milliseconds we already form a perception of a person entirely by their face.”

Henry Savage can be reached at henry.savage@temple.edu.

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