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It's All In The Face

by Phyllis Pollack
May 2009

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

       We have all heard others who claim they can tell if someone is lying by “reading” that person’s face. By simply looking at her opponent’s face, the negotiator can tell if the opponent is trustworthy.

       Well. . . it seems that scientific research now supports this assertion. . . at least to some degree. In the March 5, 2009 edition of The Economist (in the Science and Technology section), the writer discusses research that reveals that “people’s creditworthiness. . . can be seen in their looks”  (Id. at “About Face”).  In short, appearances do count.

       Jefferson Duarte, Ph.d. of Rice University and his colleagues conducted experiments that suggested “that one of a person’s most telling moral features, his creditworthiness, can also be seen in his face.” (Id.)

       Using two internet sites, and Mechanical Turk, Dr. Durarte “recruited 25 Mechanical Turk workers and asked them to assess pictures of potential borrowers that had been posted on”

      “In particular, they were asked to rate, on a scale of one to five, how trustworthy these people looked, and to estimate the percentage probability that each individual would repay a $100 loan. They were also asked to make several other assessments, such as the individual’s sex, race, age, attractiveness and obesity. The 25 results for each photograph were then averaged and analysed.”

      “The researchers looked at 6,821 loan applications, 733 which were successful. Their first finding was that the assessment of trustworthiness . . . did indeed correlate with [the] potential borrowers’ credit rating based on their credit history. . . .” (Id.)

       Dr. Duarte’s research also found that “shiftiness” was also revealed. That is, the 25 recruits from Mechanical Turk were pretty good at flagging as “untrustworthy” those who, in reality, were unable to obtain a loan at all or who obtained a loan but at a higher interest rate than the “trustworthy” loan applicant.

      While this research centers on credit trustworthiness, it also indicates that a person’s face reveals a lot. And indeed, I have posted other blogs (e.g., The Eyes Have It (10/14/08); Pride: Something To Think About (7/10/07)) discussing the revelation of body language and what a person’s eyes will tell you. So, I take this research as just further confirmation that one cannot simply listen to words being said but must also “read” the person’s face and body language. The latter will often contradict and belie the former. In truth, people reveal much more through non-verbal communication than through verbal communication. (Indeed, according to psychologist Albert Mehrabian, more than fifty (50%) percent of the total meaning of a spoken word comes through facial expressions and other non-verbal communication.)

       So. . . don’t be fooled or blinded by the “words”; read the whole “package” including the face.

       . . .Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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