Hey, Your Brain Really Knows In a Split Second Whether to Trust Someone

How's this for brains?  They can judge a face's trustworthiness even without consciously seeing it.

According to newswise.com, “Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived,” explains Jonathan Freeman, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the study’s senior author.

Haven't you proven it?  Just by looking at someone, sometimes getting a sense to be wary?

“The results are consistent with an extensive body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness,” adds Freeman, who conducted the study as a faculty member at Dartmouth College.

 The study showed people photos of faces that were both real and artificially created, judging them for trustworthiness in a brief few seconds.  An earlier group had been shown the photos for a longer period of time.

This rapid exposure, together with another feature known as “backward masking,” prevented subjects from consciously seeing the faces newswise reports. " Backward masking works by presenting subjects with an irrelevant 'mask' image that immediately follows an extremely brief exposure to a face, which is thought to terminate the brain’s ability to further process the face and prevent it from reaching awareness," the Web site notes.

In the first experiment, the researchers examined brain activity in response to three levels of a face’s trustworthiness: low, medium, and high. In the second experiment, they assessed activity in response to a fully continuous spectrum of trustworthiness.

Across the two experiments, the researchers found that specific regions inside the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for social and emotional behavior) exhibited activity tracking how untrustworthy a face appeared, and other regions inside the same part of the brain exhibited activity tracking the overall strength of the trustworthiness signal (whether untrustworthy or trustworthy)—even though subjects could not consciously see any of the faces.

“These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood,” observes Freeman. “The amygdala is able to assess how trustworthy another person’s face appears without it being consciously perceived."

So is this good or bad?  I suppose the scientists could have just said that we can tell by instinct whether a person can be trusted.  But I suppose that instinct is triggered by the amygdala? 


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