Neural time course and brain sources of facial attractiveness vs. trustworthiness judgment

  • Manuel G. Calvo
  • Aida Gutiérrez-García
  • David Beltrán
Research Article


Prior research has shown that the more (or less) attractive a face is judged, the more (or less) trustworthy the person is deemed and that some common neural networks are recruited during facial attractiveness and trustworthiness evaluation. To interpret the relationship between attractiveness and trustworthiness (e.g., whether perception of personal trustworthiness may depend on perception of facial attractiveness), we investigated their relative neural processing time course. An event-related potential (ERP) paradigm was used, with localization of brain sources of the scalp neural activity. Face stimuli with a neutral, angry, happy, or surprised expression were presented in an attractiveness judgment, a trustworthiness judgment, or a control (no explicit social judgment) task. Emotional facial expression processing occurred earlier (N170 and EPN, 150-290 ms post-stimulus onset) than attractiveness and trustworthiness processing (P3b, 400-700 ms). Importantly, right-central ERP (C2, C4, C6) differences reflecting discrimination between “yes” (attractive or trustworthy) and “no” (unattractive or untrustworthy) decisions occurred at least 400 ms earlier for attractiveness than for trustworthiness, in the absence of LRP motor preparation differences. Neural source analysis indicated that facial processing brain networks (e.g., LG, FG, and IPL—extending to pSTS), also right-lateralized, were involved in the discrimination time course differences. This suggests that attractiveness impressions precede and might prime trustworthiness inferences and that the neural time course differences reflect truly facial encoding processes.


Trustworthiness Attractiveness Time course Event-related potential Brain sources Facial expression 



The authors thank Patricia Alvarez-Plaza for their help in running the experiment.


This research was funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Grant PSI2014-54720-P, awarded to Manuel G. Calvo.

Compliance with ethical standards

Disclosure of interests

The authors declare no conflict of interests.

Supplementary material

13415_2018_634_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (13 kb)
ESM S1 Supplemental Dataset_Low-level Properties of Faces and Masks.xlsx (Excel format). (XLSX 12 kb)
13415_2018_634_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (92 kb)
ESM S2 Supplemental Dataset_Attractiveness and Trustworthiness Ratings.xlsx (Excel format). (XLSX 92 kb)
13415_2018_634_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (26 kb)
ESM S3 Supplemental Dataset_Responses, ERPs, and Sources.xlsx (Excel format). (XLSX 25 kb)
13415_2018_634_MOESM4_ESM.xlsx (87 kb)
ESM S4 Supplemental Dataset_First and Second Exposures.xlsx (Excel format). (XLSX 86 kb)
13415_2018_634_Fig5_ESM.png (199 kb)

(PNG 198 kb)

13415_2018_634_MOESM5_ESM.tif (274 kb)
High resolution image (TIF 274 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cognitive Psychology, Campus de GuajaraUniversidad de La LagunaTenerifeSpain
  2. 2.Instituto Universitario de Neurociencia (IUNE)Universidad de La LagunaTenerifeSpain
  3. 3.Aida Gutiérrez-García, Department of Health SciencesUniversidad de BurgosBurgosSpain

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