Non-verbal cues predict one’s trustworthiness

September 12th, 2012 - 3:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 12 (IANS) Can you trust someone you just met and if you can, how do you do it? People face this predicament all the time. US researchers suggest that it could be done by observing a person’s non-verbal cues.

Using a robot named Nexi, Northeastern University psychology professor David DeSteno and collaborators Cynthia Breazeal from MIT’s Media Lab and Robert Frank and David Pizarro from Cornell University have figured out the answer.

For instance, nonverbal cues can offer a look into a person’s likely actions. This concept has been known for years, but why they do have remained a mystery, the journal Psychological Science reports.

Collecting data from face-to-face conversations with participants where money was on the line, DeSteno and his team realised that its not one single non-verbal movement or cue that determines a person’s trustworthiness, but rather sets of cues, according to a Northwesern statement.

“Scientists haven’t been able to unlock the cues to trust because they’ve been going about it the wrong way. “There’s no one golden-cue. Context and coordination of movements is what matters,” DeSteno said.

People are fidgety - they’re moving all the time. So how could the team truly zero-in on the cues that mattered? This is where Nexi comes in. Nexi is a humanoid social robot that afforded the team an important benefit - they could control all its movements perfectly.

In a second experiment, the team had participants converse with Nexi for 10 minutes, much like they did with another person in the first experiment. During the interaction, Nexi - operated remotely by researchers - either expressed cues that were considered less than trustworthy or expressed similar, but non-trust-related cues.

Confirming their theory, the team found that participants exposed to Nexi’s untrustworthy cues intuited that Nexi was likely to cheat them and adjusted their financial decisions accordingly.

“Certain nonverbal gestures trigger emotional reactions we’re not consciously aware of, and these reactions are enormously important for understanding how interpersonal relationships develop. The fact that a robot can trigger the same reactions confirms the mechanistic nature of many of the forces that influence human interaction,” said Frank.

This discovery has led the research team to not only answer enduring questions about if and how people are able to assess the trustworthiness of an unknown person, but also to show the human mind’s willingness to ascribe trust-related intentions to technological entities based on the same movements.

“This is a very exciting result that showcases how social robots can be used to gain important insights about human behaviour,” said Cynthia Breazeal of MIT’s Media Lab.

“This also has fascinating implications for the design of future robots that interact and work alongside people as partners,” Breazeal said. The subconscious mind is ready to see these entities as social beings.

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