Although it is often assumed that humans spontaneously respond to the trustworthiness of others' faces, it is still unclear whether responses to facial trust are mandatory or can be modulated by instructions. Considerable scientific interest lies in understanding whether trust processing is mandatory, given the societal consequences of biased trusting behavior. We tested whether neural responses indexing trustworthiness discrimination depended on whether the task involved focusing on facial trustworthiness or not, using a fast periodic visual stimulation electroencephalography oddball paradigm with a neural marker of trustworthiness discrimination at 1 Hz. Participants judged faces on size without any reference to trust, explicitly formed impressions of facial trust, or were given a financial lending context that primed trust, without explicit trust judgement instructions. Significant trustworthiness discrimination responses at 1 Hz were found in all three conditions, demonstrating the robust nature of trustworthiness discrimination at the neural level. Moreover, no effect of task instruction was observed, with Bayesian analyses providing moderate to decisive evidence that task instruction did not affect trustworthiness discrimination. Our finding that visual trustworthiness discrimination is mandatory points to the remarkable spontaneity of trustworthiness processing, providing clues regarding why these often unreliable impressions are ubiquitous.
The authors thank Bruno Rossion, Joan Liu-Shuang, Talia Retter, and Amy Dawel for their advice and helpful discussions, and Alex Todorov for providing the face stimuli.
Supported by an RTP scholarship from the University of Western Australia to DS, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Award to CS (DE190101043), and ARC Discovery Projects to CS and RP (DP170104602) and RP (DP140101743).