Your brain judges the reliability of a face before consciously seeing it


What does a trustworthy face look like?
Reliability, as well as dominance, is one of the two most basic judgments we make of a face in the moment after its first observation.
It is so important that our unconscious can process the reliability of a face in a tiny fraction of a second, even without our conscious mind being aware of the face.
A new study that demonstrates this, published in the Journal ofNeuroscience, suggests that our unconscious perception of faces is more powerful than previously thought.
(Freeman et al., 2014)

Faces you can trust

Protruding cheekbones and higher inner eyebrows are two typical signals of trustworthy faces, the reverse being automatically deemed unreliable.
The researchers used real, artificially generated faces with necessary characteristics as stimuli in their experiment.
Faces have been shown to people for only 33 milliseconds: that's a third of the time it takes for an even faster blink.
Then, just to make sure the face didn't reach consciousness, they were immediately shown another face for a third of a second – by comparison, half an ice age.
This prevents the brain from consciously processing the first face.
Despite these efforts to make it difficult to perceive faces, brain imagery revealed that the amygdala – an important structure in the social judgment of faces – showed activity that suggested that it was following their relative reliability.
Jonathan Freeman, who led the study, explained the results:

Our results suggest that the brain automatically responds to the reliability of the face before it is even consciously perceived.
The results are consistent with a large body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people who may be largely outside of consciousness.
These results show that the processing of social signals by the amygdala in the absence of awareness can be more extensive than previously thought.

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