• First impressions of child faces: Facial trustworthiness influences adults’ interpretations of children’s behaviour in ambiguous situations

      Thierry, Sophia; Department of Psychology
      Despite the profound behavioural consequences that first impressions of trustworthiness have on adult populations, few studies have examined how adults’ first impressions of trustworthiness influence behavioural outcomes for children. Using a novel task design, we examined adults’ perceptions of children’s behaviour in ambiguous situations. After a brief presentation of a child’s face (high or low trust), participants viewed the child’s face embedded within an ambiguous scene involving two children (Scene Task) or read a vignette about a misbehaviour done by that child (Misbehaviour Task). In the Scene Task, participants described what they believed to be happening in each scene; in the Misbehaviour Task, participants indicated whether the behaviour was done on purpose or by accident. In both tasks, participants also rated the behaviour of the target child and indicated whether that child would be a good friend. In Experiment 1, young (n=61) and older (n=57) adults viewed unaltered face images. Ambiguous scenes and misbehaviours were interpreted more positively when the target child had a high- versus low-trust face, with comparable patterns of results for the two age groups. In Experiment 2, young adults (N=59) completed the same tasks while viewing images of child faces morphed towards high- and low-trust averages. The pattern of results mirrored that of Experiment 1. Collectively, our results demonstrate that a child’s facial trustworthiness biases how adults interpret children’s behaviour—a heuristic that may have lasting behavioural consequences for children through a self-fulfilling prophecy.