Can you judge reliability based on appearance?  New research says no.

Can you judge reliability based on appearance? New research says no.


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A new study by Rice University political scientist Rick Wilson and Texas A&M economist Catherine Eckel has examined the issue of trustworthiness. The article, entitled “Attributions of trust and honesty,” will appear in a future issue of Political Behavior.

“In 2001, George W. Bush claimed that he looked Vladimir Putin in the eye and found the Russian leader ‘trustworthy,'” the authors wrote. “Many people claim to be able to read their counterparts in negotiation settings; there is no doubt that this would be a valuable skill… How often do they get it right?”

Not very often.

Using decisions made in experimental trust games conducted in previous academic studies, Wilson and Eckel asked subjects in the new study to look at photos of the people who made those decisions and guess their trust levels. Although the subjects were motivated because they were paid to guess correctly, they had poor accuracy.

Wilson said that the incorrect guesses were linked to distinctive features.

“We found that the subjects were influenced by stereotypes based on the characteristics seen in the photos, including gender, skin color, or attractiveness,” he said. “Our results revealed that people are deluding themselves when they think they can predict reliability from looks alone.”

So do Wilson and Eckel believe it when world leaders claim they can judge trustworthiness just by meeting face to face?

“We are skeptics,” they concluded in the newspaper. “While people are confident in their ability to quickly read the faces of others, they rarely do better than chance.”

More information:
Rick K. Wilson et al, Attributions of trust and honesty, Political Behavior (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s11109-022-09855-6

Provided by Rice University

Citation: Can you judge reliability based on appearance? New Research Says No (2023, January 23) Accessed January 23, 2023 at

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