Fun fact: There’s an odd trend happening in the science world of late delving into the connection between the idea of trust and our facial features. For example, one recent study found that people register our emotions as more authentic if our eyes wrinkle as we laugh or frown. Another fascinating study found that women see men with more “feminine” facial features as more sensitive and trustworthy than those with more “masculine” traits. But how likely we are to trust others doesn’t just depend on how they look—it also comes down to what we’re like.
New research published in Nature Communications has found that the kinds of people who are more likely to trust and cooperate with others are also those who can tolerate ambiguity.
For the study, Oriel FeldmanHall, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown University, and her colleagues performed an experiment on 106 female and 94 male participants. They were asked to play solo gambling games and social games to assess how people react to risk and how they choose to team up with someone when they are unsure of whether or not their partner’s performance will benefit them. They found that those who could handle the act of not knowing were more likely to cooperate and trust their partner, even if that person had not behaved in a trustworthy way in the past.
The findings have a lot of implications into why some people are simply more trusting than others.
“If we consider how we go about navigating through our social worlds, we constantly need to figure out what other people are feeling and thinking,” FeldmanHall said in a university newsletter. “Even if someone tells us they are angry, they may not be telling us how angry they really are, or why they might be angry in the first place. In other words, we try to predict other people without ever having full access to their ‘hidden’ states… Because we do not have full knowledge of others’ feelings or intentions, it can be hard to figure out whether it is best to trust another person with money or information, for example, or cooperate with them when one’s well-being is at stake.”
I, for one, am maddened by ambiguity, and find it difficult to cooperate and trust others if I don’t know precisely how they will react. It’s probably why I so prefer the company of dogs, whose reactions to any given situation you can always accurately predict (and whose trust in humans is ingrained by evolution).
These findings have made me consider the possibility of re-calibrating my attitude to uncertainty in order to have better personal and professional relationships. Indeed, my dating coach did recently wisely counsel me to “separate my ego from the outcome” when dating men. After all, one might argue that the key to embracing ambiguity is understanding that other people’s actions are not always a direct response to your own, something that many of us find hard to do.
And for more fascinating insight into how we perceive others, check out Why Women Are Attracted to Square-Jawed Men.
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