"Can I Trust You?" (Yaletown Counselling)

Posted on Tue, Jan 8, 2013

Yaletown Counselling, Depression, Anxiety, Couples How do we know when we can trust someone?  

Is it an unidentifiable “gut reaction” or are there overt “tells.”  Researchers from Northeastern University studying the methods we use to determine another’s trustworthiness concluded that certain physical cues (“body language”) can provide clarity.

Their findings suggest that the personality traits of honest and fairness have correlated and discernable nonverbal cues. 

Here are the basics of their experiment:

- Two subjects spend 5 minutes together getting to know one another (they are not aware of what is coming next).  In the control group the two players do not spend any time together prior to phase 2 (the game).

- Next they play a game that hinges on player one’s ability to gauge player two’s trustworthiness during their previous interaction.  If they feel player two is trustworthy they can choose to sacrifice individual reward but gain stronger group reward.  And conversely if they feel player two is NOT trustworthy, they may select greater individual over group reward.

- At the same time player 2 is being asked to guess how player 1 is going to behave.  Do the players who spent time with player 1 have an advantage?

- The results demonstrated that those participants who were able to read their opponent’s non-verbal cues were 37% more likely to accurately guess their partner’s behaviour.

So what were the “tells” that predicted an individual / selfish strategy vs. collective / sharing strategy?  The researchers filmed the interactions from multiple angles and identified these 4 cues: their opponent was touching their hands or their face, crossed their arms or leaned away. 

It is important to emphasize that the players were not aware that they would be playing an economic game after their initial 5-minute meeting.  If they did know this, would they attempt to make a different impression on their competitor by hiding or suppressing some of these non-verbal cues?  There is always mre research to be done! 

Jeff Ross, MA RCC

Resonate Wellness



Jeff is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and sees clients in Vancouver (Yaletown Counselling) and North Vancouver, BC, Canada.  In addition to couples counselling / marriage counselling, he supports individuals with such issues as depression, anxiety, stress management, relationship issues, grief and bereavement, career and educational issues as well as growth and development.  

If you have a comment or question about this post or any other, please feel free to join the discussion or send him a private and confidential email.  Let us know what Resonates with you!

Topics: Connection, Belonging, Trust