Body language as a clue to trustworthiness

The trustworthiness of an individual can be predicted by the non-verbal cues they give, new research has suggested. Published in the journal Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the study found it is a set of cues rather than a single movement that can help determine such an evaluation.

David DeSteno, a Psychology Professor at Northeastern University, noted context and coordination of movements is what matters when it comes to deciding whether or not someone is likely to cheat a partner.

Robert Frank from Cornell University stated: "Certain non-verbal gestures trigger emotional reactions we're not consciously aware of and these reactions are enormously important for understanding how interpersonal relationships develop."

The investigators remotely operated a robot named Nexi to collect their results - and Mr Frank said the fact a machine of this type can trigger the same reactions as people demonstrates the mechanistic nature of the forces behind human interaction.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Sheila Keegan comments:

"We have known for a long time that non-verbal cues are vital for effective human interaction. They are part and parcel of the repertoire of communication tools that we use to get by in everyday life. How non-verbal cues, which are often below conscious awareness, are sent, received and interpreted is a complex and ongoing area of interest for psychologists. This study, which suggests that a set of non-verbal cues rather than a single cue is related to perceived trustworthiness is therefore interesting, but perhaps not surprising, given the intricacies and subtleties of human behaviour.

"However, we do have to be wary of reifying human communications in scientific studies. Communication is a living, adaptive process. Non-verbal cues may differ subtly by person, situation, mood and so on. It is also possible to consciously mimic cues for our own ends. Alternatively, cues may be biased by factors that we know nothing about

"Normal human interaction is an iterative process of turn taking, in which the gesture of an individual brings forth the response of the other and so on, in ways that cannot be predicted. So I would question the 'mechanistic nature' of the forces behind human interaction, which the researchers suggest."