The influence of visual context on the evaluation of facial trustworthiness

Marco Brambilla, Marco Biella, Jonathan B. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evaluation of facial trustworthiness is often thought to be based on facial features and relatively immune to visual context. However, we rarely encounter an isolated facial expression in the real world. In 3 Experiments using a mouse-tracking paradigm, participants were asked to categorize the trustworthiness of faces that were shown against either threatening, negative but unthreatening, or neutral scenes. Results showed that visual scenes systematically altered the categorization of facial trustworthiness. The trajectory of hand movements reflected the compatibility of facial trustworthiness and contextual threat cues of the scene. Trajectories were facilitated when facial cues and contextual cues were compatible (e.g., untrustworthy face in a threatening scene), and were partially attracted to the context-associated response when incompatible (e.g., trustworthy face in a threatening scene). Thus, the evaluation of facial trustworthiness involves dynamic updates of gradual integration of the face and the level of threat posed by the visual context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-42
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Face perception
  • Mouse-tracking
  • Threat
  • Trustworthiness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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