Facial recognition study finds people more trusting of strangers who look like them

OSAKA, Japan — What makes one stranger seem more trustworthy than another? A new study finds the answer may come down to how much someone has in common with them physically — including their sex. Researchers in Japan say people are more likely to trust strangers that look like them and a lot of that trustworthiness depends on the stranger’s gender.

Results suggest that the average person is more likely to trust someone with similar features, but only if they’re also of the same gender — either a man looking at another man or a woman staring at her female doppelganger. The study found similar facial features didn’t factor into levels of trust when strangers were of the opposite sex.

“Because trustworthiness can indicate a high degree of facial similarity, we wanted to examine how estimations of facial similarity made by a deep learning system were correlated with real-life ratings of trustworthiness,” says lead study author Tamami Nakano in a media release.

The study authors asked participants to look at photos containing the faces of several unknown individuals. Based on the pictures, the group had to rate how trustworthy the strangers seemed. The ratings were then fed to a deep learning neural network to study the similarities between the photos and the faces of the graders. The system looked to see if face similarity influenced trustworthy ratings.

“The results were surprising,” Nakano reports. “While people tended to rate individuals with faces that were similar to themselves as more trustworthy, this was not the case when the faces were evaluated by someone of the opposite sex.”

There’s something about their face I trust…

For same-sex interactions, face similarity may be an important factor when evaluating whether you can open up to someone you just met or are getting to know.

“Our findings indicate that it is possible to quantify the degree to which two faces are similar or different via face recognition performed by an artificial neural network,” says Takuto Yamamoto, co-author of the study.

Understanding how people perceive trust in strangers could help online technologies create faces in advertisements which sell products or make personalized suggestions. It may also help with creating avatars in games and virtual reality consoles so that they appear more trustworthy.

The study is published in the journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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