New York

People decide how trustworthy strangers are within the blink of an eye, psychologists have found, and it is all down to the shape of their face.

We tend to judge someone with high eyebrows and prominent cheekbones to be more honest, while we are less likely to trust someone with a furrowed brow and sunken cheeks, researchers suggest. The findings give new weight to the principle that first impressions count. There is no evidence, however, that facial features demonstrate how honest someone really is- simply that they may be perceived to be trustworthy or untrustworthy depending on their looks.

Psychologists from New York University found that a section of the brain decides a person’s trustworthiness even before we have consciously perceived who they are.

The brain takes just 33 milliseconds - three hundredths of a second, or a tenth of a time it takes to blink - to decide whether someone is to be trusted.

The study, published last night in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that our brains are set up to be instantly wary of people we decided we should not trust. Jonathan Freeman, assistant professor at New York University’s Department of Psychology, said: ‘Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived.

‘The results are consistent with an extensive body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness.’

Applying the findings to public figures, the Mail found that trusted individuals such as newsreader Fiona Bruce and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby indeed have high cheekbones and eyebrows.

Conversely, public figures who have been roundly condemned for their dishonesty - including lying MPs Jonathan Aitken and Chris Huhne - have sunken cheeks and furrowed brows. The New York research team presented a panel of ten volunteers with 300 computer generated faces, and asked them how trustworthy each was.

Those faces with high cheekbones, high eyebrows and a smile were perceived to be the most honest. The scientists also presented the panel with real pictures of strangers, and the same facial attributes were found to be deemed as trustworthy. In a second set of experiments, a new set of 37 volunteers were presented with the ‘trustworthy’ and ‘untrustworthy’ images for a split second, while their brain activity was monitored.