Physical Appearance and Its Effect on Trust

(1) Tecnológico de Monterrey High School, Cuernavaca, Mexico

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The first assessment of another person’s trustworthiness may depend on several factors, such as previous experiences, education, cultural context, and prejudices, but also on the physical attributes and appearance of the person. We hypothesized that different physical traits would affect teenagers’ initial trust of an unknown person and that they would give greater trust to women and people of similar ethnicity. To test this hypothesis, we developed a survey to determine the sets of physical characteristics that affect a person's trustworthiness, including gender, skin color/ethnicity, and facial expressions by asking teenagers to select pictures of young adults presented in pairs based on their physical appearance. For this, 52 teenage volunteers answered this survey in which each of the questions displayed two computer-generated images of people that represented hypothetical Uber drivers of the same age with different physical characteristics. The participants selected the person they preferred to have as an Uber driver based only on the images shown. Results indicated that female participants preferred women drivers, but male participants had no preference for the driver´s gender. Mexican drivers were selected less than white or black drivers, and participants trusted a smiling expression over neutral expressions. We concluded that gender and expression were the main physical traits associated with how trustworthy an individual looks, while ethnicity was also important.

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trust gender facial expression physical appearance ethnicity