Should I trust you? Autistic traits predict reduced appearance-based trust decisions

Jasmine Hooper, Clare A. M. Sutherland (Lead Author), Louise Ewing, Robyn Langdon, Nathan Caruana, Emily Connaughton, Nikolas Williams, Jayden Greenwell-Barnden, Gillian Rhodes

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Facial impressions of trustworthiness guide social decisions in the general population, as shown by financial lending in economic Trust Games. As an exception, autistic boys fail to use facial impressions to guide trust decisions, despite forming typical facial trustworthiness impressions (Ewing et al., 2015). Here, we tested whether this dissociation between forming and using facial impressions of trustworthiness extends to neurotypical men with high levels of autistic traits. Forty-six Caucasian men completed a multi-turn Trust Game, a facial trustworthiness impressions task, the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, and two Theory of Mind tasks. As hypothesized, participants’ levels of autistic traits had no observed effect on the impressions formed, but negatively predicted the use of those impressions in trust decisions. Thus, the dissociation between forming and using facial impressions of trustworthiness extends to the broader autism phenotype. More broadly, our results identify autistic traits as an important source of individual variation in the use of facial impressions to guide behaviour. Interestingly, failure to use these impressions could potentially represent rational behaviour, given their limited validity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-634
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date13 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • autistic traits
  • broader autistic phenotype
  • facial impressions
  • facial trustworthiness
  • individual differences
  • trust behaviour

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