People base their level of trust on facial cues, especially those of celebrities. If you look like a celebrity, even in passing, who is going through a scandal, get used to people looking at you skeptically.
Who would you trust more, Tiger Woods, George W. Bush or an ordinary guy? If you answered the ordinary guy, congratulations, you are in the minority. Composite faces using Woods and Bush were deemed more trustworthy than faces that were not morphed with a celebrity.
A new study, led by Robin J. Tanner and Ahreum Maeng from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grafted the faces of Woods and Bush onto faces of models to create new faces that did not resemble the famous faces. These new faces, 35 percent famous and 65 percent ordinary, were declared to be more trustworthy than composite faces who were 100 percent ordinary.
Researchers polled 109 college students on who was more trustworthy, a composite face featuring a model and Tiger Woods or a composite face of the same model with an ordinary male. None of the participants identified Tiger Woods in the composite image but all the participants though the composite faces reminded them of someone they knew. Despite this seeming level playing field, the composite image featuring Woods was rated more trustworthy.
To further understand the link between celebrity familiarity and trustworthiness, researchers conducted a similar experiment involving a composite face using George W. Bush and a model. In this study, 179 students were chosen and polled on which face was more trustworthy, the Bush composite, the unaltered face of the model or a composite face of the model and a male similar in attractiveness to Bush.
As with the Tiger Woods composite, none of the participants mentioned that the composite image looked like George W. Bush. Independent of the participant’s feelings towards Bush’s level of trustworthiness, the Bush composite was deemed to be more trustworthy.
Interestingly, the researchers conducted the study after the Tiger Woods scandal. What was once a trustworthy face before the scandal was no longer a face that people had faith in after the scandal.
For the researchers, marketers may have it all wrong when it comes to altering the attractiveness of individuals. Familiarity, even subconsciously, may be a better marketing tool. Instead of a using a generic, albeit gorgeous, model with a Photoshop-perfect body, marketers should alter models to look more like Brad Pitt or Eva Longoria.