The effect of arousal and eye gaze direction on trust evaluations of stranger's faces: A potential pathway to paranoid thinking

Jennie Abbott, Megan Middlemiss, Vicki Bruce, David Smailes, Robert Dudley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Background and objectives: When asked to evaluate faces of strangers, people with paranoia show a tendency to rate others as less trustworthy. The present study investigated the impact of arousal on this interpersonal bias, and whether this bias was specific to evaluations of trust or additionally affected other trait judgements. The study also examined the impact of eye gaze direction, as direct eye gaze has been shown to heighten arousal.

Methods: In two experiments, non-clinical participants completed face rating tasks before and after either an arousal manipulation or control manipulation. Experiment one examined the effects of heightened arousal on judgements of trustworthiness. Experiment two examined the specificity of the bias, and the impact of gaze direction.

Results: Experiment one indicated that the arousal manipulation led to lower trustworthiness ratings. Experiment two showed that heightened arousal reduced trust evaluations of trustworthy faces, particularly trustworthy faces with averted gaze. The control group rated trustworthy faces with direct gaze as more trustworthy post-manipulation. There was some evidence that attractiveness ratings were affected similarly to the trust judgements, whereas judgements of intelligence were not affected by higher arousal.

Limitations: In both studies, participants reported low levels of arousal even after the manipulation and the use of a non-clinical sample limits the generalisability to clinical samples.

Conclusions: There is a complex interplay between arousal, evaluations of trustworthiness and gaze direction. Heightened arousal influences judgements of trustworthiness, but within the context of face type and gaze direction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-36
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Early online date26 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


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