How trusting are you?How do you decide if you can trust someone? Is it based on their handshake, the way they look you in the eye or perhaps their body language?

We know that what someone wears has an effect on our trust in them. If you happen to be a doctor, 76 percent of us will favour you if you wear the white coat, compared with only 10 percent if you happen to just pop out in your surgical scrubs. Labels matter, too. In one test, four times as many people were willing to stop and answer a survey on one day compared to another. The difference? Whether the interviewer had a designer label on their sweatshirt. But what if you had to decide whether to trust someone without knowing the gear they were togged up in? Without knowing anything about them at all?

When people fall victim to fraud, often it is because they have decided to trust a stranger. In mass-marketing fraud (known widely as the 419 scam or advance fee fraud), an unsolicited e-mail contact offers false promises or information designed to con you out of money. You may have already received an e-mail from, for example, a Nigerian prince who desperately needs your bank details in order to move some money out of the country fast. Phishing fraud, where links in carefully crafted, apparently legitimate e-mails redirect users to a different server, into which they are persuaded to enter usernames, passwords or bank account details, cost Britain about 500,000,000 euros in 2012, according to RSA Security.

But what makes some people laugh and delete immediately, while others are curious enough to find out more?

Slack is a PhD researcher
in Neuroscience at
University of Sheffield.
This article was
originally published
on The Conversation:

Playing games

A recent study led by Tim Hahn from Goethe University in Frankfurt examined people's initial levels of trust when co-operating with an unknown partner.

Sixty participants were asked to play the trust game, an extension of an experimental economics game called the dictator game for which the participants were put into pairs. Player 1 was given an initial amount of hypothetical "money" that she could choose whether to gamble with. The gamble was this: She could give her money to the stranger she was paired with, Player 2, and anything she gave would be tripled. Player 2 could then choose to give some of this money back to Player 1, and again, anything she returned would be tripled - or Player 2 could choose to keep it all.

In theory then, the more generous you are in the beginning, the richer you could become by the end. To make it more exciting, the players were told that at the end of the trust game, this notional money would be converted into real hard cash.

As Player 1, how much would you give away to a complete stranger? Well if you happen to have an electroencephalograph (EEG) handy, you can find out without ever needing to play. An EEG records your brain activity by measuring the electrical pulses generated by the brain's cells through a series of electrodes placed on your scalp. In this study, the researchers found that they could predict the amount of money the initial player would trust to the stranger purely based on the activity recorded by the EEG.


Rebecca Slack

The Washington Post
LEHTIKUVA / Martti Kainulainen

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