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Beyond the Features: The Role of Consistency in Impressions of Trust

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To be successful in social life, perceivers need to form impressions of other people's trustworthiness. Current models of this process emphasize the role of specific descriptive content–individual verbal and visual features determining trust impressions. In contrast, we describe three lines of our research showing that trust impressions also depend on consistency–a sense of fit–between features. The first line demonstrates that consistency of brief verbal characterizations increases trust judgments. The second line shows that trust judgments and behaviors are boosted by incidental consistency between the foreground and background of visual scenes. The third line observes that consistency between facial features enhances impressions of trustworthiness. In all these studies, consistency (measured via subjective ratings, reaction times, and physiological measures) positively and uniquely predicted trust judgments. Overall, our results, and related findings, show that trust impressions are not a simple sum of the contributing parts, but reflect a “gestalt.” We theoretically locate these findings in frameworks emphasizing the role of fluency, predictive coding, and coherence in social cognition.

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