11 November 2014

Trust a Scientist Addendum

Last Friday’s blog post warned scientists to do a better job at garnering trust (Trust a Scientist). One possible approach to achieve this goal was reported several years ago by researchers who coincidentally are in the same Princeton University department as those who gave the warning.

Based on behavioral studies with test subjects and computer modeling, those researchers developed a two-dimensional model of face evaluation, capturing what it is about human faces that make them look either trustworthy or fearsome.

The researchers identified two orthogonal dimensions--valence and dominance--that were sufficient to describe face evaluation, and they showed that these dimensions could be approximated by judgments of trustworthiness and dominance. They then used a commercial software program to build and validate models for representing facial trustworthiness and dominance.

Varying a computer-generated face along the two orthogonal dimensions, trustworthiness and dominance, of a 2D model of face evaluation, which was based judgments of 300 emotionally neutral faces. (see report in Proc. of National Academy of Sciences)
Computer-generated faces displaying features the Princeton test subjects rated from most trustworthy (left) to neutral (middle) to least trustworthy (right). (see Princeton press release)
Forgoing plastic surgery or other such tweaks, scientists--most of whom are similar to other humans--are generally stuck with their facial features for long periods of their lives. But I’m thinking they might use a mirror to practice certain facial expressions that seem to convey trust to others. Maybe just raising their inner eyebrows with makeup would help.

Judgments of 300 emotionally neutral faces found that certain facial features tend to convey trust. (see Boston Globe article)

Research report on facial evaluation in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences: www.pnas.org/content/105/32/11087.full?sid=76b3ace2-2884-4383-8283-00d3f94fb332
Press release and Boston Globe article on the study:

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