Have you ever met someone whom you’ve not felt quite right about for no apparent reason? Fascinating research undertaken recently by psychologists in the US has highlighted a bizarre reason why this might be the case.
The research in question comes from psychologists at New York University in the USA were they were looking into trust and first impressions.
The experiments involved volunteers playing a game linked to behavioural economics in which they lent each other money and expected it to be returned at some point. A LOT of trust involved as you can imagine.
The only big difference to a more mainstream face-to-face experiment was that each volunteer was represented by a picture as opposed to meeting other participants in person.
By cleverly adapting the images to look like previous player’s pictures the psychologists were able to come up with a really interesting insight: Even when you don’t consciously recognise it, when someone you’re meeting for the first time looks similar to someone you’ve met previously but who acted in an un-trustworthy way, our brains recognise it and seem to send a signal to our conscious minds warning us not to trust the stranger.
This seems a fascinating insight: if a stranger looks like someone who has previously acted in a way that led you to distrust them, your brain is likely to tell you to distrust the newcomer straight away.
Now, because this is happening at an unconscious level, it may be difficult to deliver a practical insight, but I think there is one. It’s related to how we can sometimes write-off people before we meet them based on who introduced us, what they are wearing or how they speak, and it is something we cover in our 1-day Meetology® Masterclass in which we cover biases, thin-slicing and heuristics.
Remember, as this research suggests, we can be susceptible to sabotaging a relationship for no good reason – in this case, simply because the person in question looks like someone we’ve met before and didn’t particularly like. Avoid these pit-falls when socially interacting and challenge yourself to not succumb to these easy but potentially damaging behaviours.
The link to the research paper is on the website and I’ll be back in a week’s time.
See you next week, until then take care,
FeldmanHall, O., Dunsmoor, J. E., Tompary, A., Hunter, L. E., Todorov, A., & Phelps, E. A. (2018). Stimulus generalization as a mechanism for learning to trust. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201715227.