November 20th, 2006
Experimental Social Psychology (PSYO 3082)

Much effort is put into enhancing the features of attraction, as being attractive is beneficial in many aspects of everyday life. The present study compared ratings for smiling and neutral photos of 15 women under attractiveness and trustworthiness conditions. The results showed that there was a significant correlation between attractiveness and perceived trustworthiness (r = 0.41) among all of the faces for the two conditions. It was concluded that, since ratings under both conditions were higher for smiling faces than neutral faces, that smiling is a positive factor toward appearing both attractive and trustworthy. Future studies could use photos of unfamiliar faces to determine whether the results would support the present data.

People spend many hours during the week making themselves more attractive. There are billion-dollar industries based around making the face beautiful. Many women spend a lot of money and time applying make-up every morning and removing it in the evening. People of both sexes get haircuts and styles on a very routine basis. Competitions are made for the sole purpose of choosing the best looking person. Careers are made out of being attractive. But why is attractiveness so important to our everyday lives? Attractive people have been known to get preferred treatment more so than non-attractive people. Attractive women are more likely to get employed than non-attractive women (Heilman & Stopeck, 1986). Attractive people get lesser punishment for committing certain types of crimes and are perceived as more popular in school by their peers (Mazzella & Feingold, 2006; Boyatzis, Baloff & Durieux, 1998). How is attractiveness measured? Being attractive is more than just styling one’s hair, applying makeup and wearing nice clothing. It goes further than that. A face is considered very attractive if it has symmetry (Grammer and Thornhill, 1994). Not only does symmetry result in higher ratings of attractiveness, it also correlates with better health and positive personality attributes such as intelligence and self-confidence (Finka et. al, 2006). Thus it can be assured that being attractive results in positive outcomes for people. There is also a correlation between attractiveness and trustworthiness, which is a point of interest for the present study (Zaidel, Beva & Reis, 2003).

So what makes a face attractive? Cunningham et, al. (1995) found that Asian, African and Caucasian American males preferred neonate features in women. Faces that had larger eyes, a wider space between the eyes, a smaller nose and chin, larger bottom lip, higher eyebrows and higher cheekbones were viewed as more attractive. Females preferred male faces with wider cheek-bones, chins and jaws, as these signify dominance (Grammer & Thornhill, 1994). It has also been found that smiling has a positive effect on the ratings of attractiveness in both males and females. Smiling was attributed to sincerity, competence and sociability but does smiling increase the ratings of perceived trustworthiness of an individual (Reis et. al, 2006)? Zaidel, Beva & Reis (2003) found that, when judging facial symmetry for right-right and left-left faces, smiling had a positive effect on ratings of attractiveness. It was also found that there was no positive correlation on smiling and trustworthiness and therefore it was suggested that trust and attraction in the face are viewed differently from one another. The features that one looks for in the face to make it attractive must be different than the ones that make it appear trustworthy (Zaidel, Beva & Reis, 2003). The present study tested whether there was a correlation between perceived trustworthiness and attraction ratings of smiling and neutral faces. It was hypothesized that there will be a positive correlation between ratings of attraction and perceived trustworthiness. Zaidel, Beva & Reis (2003) found that attractiveness in female faces differs between the two lateral sides of the face whereas trustworthiness involved the entire face. However, the side of the face that received the highest attractiveness ratings also received slightly higher trustworthiness ratings. It was then concluded that trustworthiness was related more to attractiveness than it was to smiling which showed that there was some connection between the two (Zaidel, Beva & Reis, 2003). The present study will determine whether there is a correlation between both in smiling and neutral faces.


There were 39 participants in this experiment that consisted of 7 males and 32 females. All participants were students in the PSYO 3082 Experimental Social Psychology class at Dalhousie University. Participation was voluntary and students who did not want to participate were asked to leave their rating sheets blank. The participants were seated throughout a classroom with a range in distance from the projected stimuli of 10 feet for the closest and 31 feet for the participant furthest away.

The participants were told that the purpose of the study was whether certain eye characteristics were more attractive than others and whether attractiveness was correlated with trustworthiness. It was announced that the characteristic will not be revealed until later in order to reduce demand characteristics. The true purpose of the present study, however, did not focus on eye characteristics and attractiveness. It was to determine whether smiling faces were more attractive than neutral faces and whether attractiveness was correlated with trustworthiness. Deception was necessary in this experiment as knowing the true purpose may have had an effect on the ratings of attractiveness toward the photos of the women. The deception used posed no harm to the participants and they were debriefed following the experiment.

There were 30 photos of public figures in total retrieved from the internet of 15 women. Each woman was presented within two conditions, one photo of each smiling and one neutral photo. The photos were put into Microsoft PowerPoint and were shown through a projector onto a white screen. Two sheets were used in recording the ratings for each of the two conditions.

Before the experiment began, on the first day, the participants were given a choice between five different scales to use to measure the faces. The scale that was chosen was a 9-point, three anchored likert scale, with an average anchor, that received the most votes among the participants. They were shown some practice faces to use with the chosen scale.

On the second day, the participants were to rate the photos based on two conditions; attractiveness and trustworthiness. In the first condition for attractiveness, the participants were shown the 30 photos and rated them with the likert scale on a sheet of paper. They were asked by the experimenter to use a second blank sheet of paper to cover up the responses of all previous ratings to avoid comparing the present photo to past photos. Each photo was randomly presented for 10 seconds. Before each photo was presented, an audio recording of a doorbell would sound to signify the presentation of the next photo. At the end of this condition, the rating sheets were handed back and a similar sheet for the trustworthiness condition was handed out. The settings for this condition were the same as the previous one except the photos were presented in a different random order and a slight modification to the rating sheets had to be made by the participants due to typing error.

The present experiment was a 2X2 within-subjects design. The mean rating of attractiveness for smiling faces was 5.25 (SD = 0.76) and for neutral faces was 5.05 (SD = 0.79) (see graph 2). For trustworthiness, the mean rating for smiling faces was 5.82 (SD = 0.76) and for neutral faces 4.97 (SD = 0.82) (see graph 3). The mean for all ratings under both conditions was higher (p<.001) for smiling faces (M = 5.54, SD = 0.81) than for neutral faces (p<.001; M = 5.01, SD = 0.80; see graph 4). There was a significant correlation between the ratings of attraction and trust (r = 0.41, p < 0.02) (see graph 1). Discussion
As predicted, the results showed that there was a correlation between attractiveness and perceived trustworthiness. The average rating given to the smiling faces in both conditions was significantly higher than that of the neutral faces in both conditions which means that there was a connection between faces that were considered to be attractive and faces that looked to be trustworthy. While there was a significant difference in the mean ratings in both conditions between smiling and neutral faces, there was a greater difference between the means for smiling and neutral faces in the trustworthy condition compared to the attractiveness condition which would lead to the belief that smiling has more of an effect on perceived trustworthiness than it does on attraction. These results disputed the study done by Zaidel, Beva & Reis (2003) where there was no positive correlation between smiling and trustworthiness in the face. The Zaidel, Beva & Reis (2003) study found its results by comparing the left side to the right side of a smiling face and not by comparing smiling faces to non-smiling faces. Therefore, it cannot be known whether there would be a lower rating for trustworthiness in that study for neutral faces as it has been found in the present study. Based on the results from that study, attractiveness could differ between both sides of the face whereas trust may deal with the whole face which could explain the present results. Based on the results of the present study, it can be concluded that a face that is smiling is seen as both more attractive and more trustworthy than a face that is not smiling and therefore shows a correlation between attractiveness and perceived trustworthiness.

Some potential confounds in this study include the use of public figures for the photo stimuli. Some of the women in the photos were famous and thus preconceptions may have already been formed by the participants as to their trustworthiness and attraction. While it was stressed to rate the photos themselves, it might have been difficult to avoid previously-formed opinions on the women in the photos. In addition to familiarity of the subjects are their known careers. Some of the subjects were known supermodels and actresses and thus aim to enhance their looks for public viewers. Other subjects were politicians, which may have had an effect primarily on the trustworthiness scale. Therefore, these subjects do not represent a fair sample of the population. The range of the subjects’ looks may also have had an effect on attraction ratings. Some subjects had their hair styled a certain way and the use of makeup varied among them as well. The photos were not taken with the subject’s face looking straight ahead. Different angles may have enhanced certain features which may have affected the subjects’ true looks. The photos used for the smile condition may not have represented authentic smiles. Some of the photos were of the subjects posing and smiling which may not have been a true smile. The stimuli were presented in the same order for all participants which could have had an effect on the ratings given thus resulting in similar scaling fashions for each subsequent photo. Even though measures were taken to prevent comparing one photo to another for rating, it would be difficult to completely prevent it from occurring. During the rating tasks, the participants were seated in close proximation to each other and conformity may have had a role in ratings in the event that a participant glanced at another’s rating sheet. The rating sheets used had an error with the anchors in which the anchors for the trustworthiness condition were reversed for every fourth rating and had to be modified prior to the presentation of the stimuli. The modification was done by the participants and may not have been uniformly done. This may have had an effect on the ratings as the average anchor did not coincide with the middle of the scale if not modified correctly.

Any future experiments with this design should have participants rating the photos on an individual basis. The photos should be randomized for each participant and the subjects should be of people that are not familiar to the participants and the distance from the screen to the participants should be uniform throughout all conditions. With these potential confounds removed, it will be interesting to further understand the connection that attraction has with perceived trustworthiness.


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