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Unconscious judges trustworthiness of human face

By on August 9, 2014
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You are probably familiar with the amygdala, the small part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response. If you find yourself jumping when you see a shadow move out of the corner of your eye as you walk through the woods, or down a dark street, then you have your amygdala to thank for keeping you safe.

What you might not be aware of is recent research that suggests the amygdala is also responsible for an initial assessment of the trustworthiness of another person’s face. The surprising thing about this is that visual information is routed to the amygdale before the signal goes to the visual cortex to be processed and sent forward to the fusiform area (face recognition) and pre-frontal cortex (higher brain function).

Your brain therefore makes judgements about the trustworthiness of another before they have even become consciously aware that there is a person in front of them! And what is true about trustworthiness is likely true about other emotional judgements.

This has several important implications for those of us in the hypnosis or coaching field:

  1. You are unconsciously judging your clients before your conscious mind joins the party. You can overcome this natural tendency perhaps by using the coaching state (‘peripheral vision’) to remain open to more sensory information and keep the amygdala calm.
  2. Your client is making an unconscious judgement about you before they make a conscious assessment. These initial unconscious judgements may be hard to undo. So hold a representation of a good friend as you first meet your client. This will likely cause you to smile and naturally adopt a more ‘trustworthy’ expression. I recall I opened my office door to greet a client, John, who was waiting outside, having booked a session via text. As I opened the door, I realized I had been expecting the wrong John (having two clients with the same name). At the end of the session I laughingly confessed my error, only to hear John say that he thought there was something wrong when he saw the expression on my face. Of course, I had been unaware that I had revealed any emotion. This may not mean much in an established client relationship, but could make the difference between success and failure with a new client!
  3. Your clients may complain about other people in their lives being ‘untrustworthy’, or who they otherwise judge in negative terms. Be aware that these judgements may be a reflection of their amygdala jumping to conclusions rather than any rational reason. Tread carefully when hearing your client’s assumptions!

You can read the original research here:

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/34/32/10573

Here is a more accessible article from the UK’s Guardian newspaper:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/06/brain-subliminally-judges-trustworthiness-facesPhotograph: Ronald Grant Archive The human brain can judge the apparent trustworthiness of a face from a glimpse so fleeting, the person has no idea they have seen it, scientists claim.  Via theguardian.com

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