My mother told me never to judge a book by its cover, but our brains do this tens if not hundreds of times a day. Research has shown that seeing a face for just 1/10 second allows enough time for someone to make judgments of a person’s attractiveness, competence, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness. While it is impressive our brains can come to a decision about a face so quickly, how accurate are those assessments? For better or worse, a person’s facial characteristics can predict court decisions, as well as outcomes of elections. Many studies focus on how the interpreter makes these decisions, but what happens to the people who are instantly considered untrustworthy when all you see is a face? Whether we care to acknowledge it, these first-impressions inevitably lead to different life-outcomes, especially if you are judged as having an untrustworthy face.
Our guest this evening is Zoe Alley, a 1st year PhD student in the newly formed Psychological Sciences program within the College of Liberal Arts, and she will be tackling these tough questions of how we perceive and understand trust. She is specifically exploring how the first impression of someone’s face can be a predictor, or possibly a driver, of their future life-outcomes. The Golden Rule says to treat others the way you want to be treated; but what happens when everyone around you is unpleasant or treats you with suspicion? You’re more likely to reciprocate those feelings, developing fewer formative relationships early in life, eventually snowballing into awkward social behaviors intensifying later in life so that finding a job or keeping friends are hopeless endeavors. Was this sequence of events caused by the person’s actions toward others, or was it the constant distrust from others that caused these behaviors leading to a negative outcome?
This is a classic chicken or the egg dilemma that we will explore, but first we have to understand how we got here. The Oregon Youth Study began in 1982 with evaluations of participants starting at age 10, and continuing with annual assessments until all 183 males from predominantly lower income neighborhoods reached 35 years old. This study generated a prodigious amount of data that scientists continue to use. One finding was the participants’ real-life behavior explained relatively small but measurable amount of how trustworthy those outside the study perceived them to be once other factors were controlled (i.e. smiling). This shows a disconnect from how we judge someone, compared to how that person actually behaves. This again begs the question: what happens to those unfortunate souls who are constantly judged negatively and is there anything we can do mitigate this unfortunate pattern?
Zoe grew up as a native Oregonian and while her childhood passion started with art and expression, it has always focused on how she can help her community. Even though the Oregon Youth Study was focused in the Willamette Valley, understanding these social constructs can help children and adults everywhere. Through this research Zoe hopes to understand how this phenomenon of ‘facial trustworthiness’ works, especially in adolescents, so that we can identify mechanisms to break this vicious cycle and give everyone an equal chance at success. Be sure to tune in for what is sure to be a candid discussion on Sunday June 4th at 7PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or by listening live.