I have blue eyes. I’m also blonde. In fact, I look stereotypically Swedish, which is what I am (from generations and generations back). Now, hair color can vary quite a bit on swedes, but guessing blue eyes from knowing someone is Swedish is a fairly safe bet. In fact, I thought it was dull to be blue eyed growing up, so dull I emphasized that little yellow ring around my pupil. I envied brown-eyed people their exotic eye color, when I wasn’t enamored with the owner, that is. Then I moved to the US, and the base-rate changed. I found myself pleasingly exotic without being weird. I realized that my internal base rate had changed also when, on a visit to Sweden, I was a bit surprised my sisters SO was blue eyed, when he looked like a base rate kind of guy, and thus should have brown eyes.
So, why this bit of trivial disclosure? Razib and Christine have recently written up a PLOSOne study looking at judged trustworthiness of brown and blue-eyed faces, done in the Czheck Republic with a population with mixed eye colors. The Brown-eyes win out. But, it isn’t the eye-color. They did a bit of color manipulation (oh, how easy that has become since I worked in advertising). The formerly blue eyed people were still judged as more trustworthy. Perhaps the signal of trust isn’t in the innocent blue eyes, but in face-morphology.
There has been a lot of work lately, possibly started by Alex Todorov (at least he is a major player), looking at whether faces reveal something about the person behind – a social affordance theory (perhaps not the best link, but gives you the idea). And, yes, there seems to be something to it. Todorov found that people were able to pick out which candidate won in elections in far-away states at better than chance rates. Ceci did work showing you could pick out the criminals (real ones) at better than chance rate. There’s been plenty other work.
But, you know, I’m from the land of the blue-eyed, and although there is a mixture of colors, where I was growing up in the middle of nowhere, brown-eyes were rare. There were three in my class of 30 (all boys). Don’t we trust one another? Well, maybe not, but I think there may be alternatives here to look at (and, hey, I’d love to have some undergrads testing this).
Trust is linked to liking and familiarity. This is the old Zajonc Mere Exposure effect. The more you see something, the more you like it (takes a long time before the familiarity breeds contempt). Somewhere, and god help me I have no idea where, I read that he thought it may have to do with some kind of threat wariness. The more familiar you are with something, the more certain you can be that it won’t be dangerous.
And, the other day, in my influence link on Facebook (after all, I do teach a course based on Cialdini’s book on influence) a got a tip on liking. Liking is one of his ways to yes. We say yes to those we like. There are a lot of reasons why you like someone (Hi, George Clooney) but the most common (since not everybody looks like George) is that we know them. Our friendly friends. In my link-tip on liking was a short reference to questions about trust. The first one was that, if you ask people how trustworthy people are in general, you get a rather dismal number. The number is quite different when they are your friends. You trust your friends, people you like. And, how to get someone to like you, if you are stranger? Share something about yourself. (And, I was searching through, and could not find that tip, so I can’t link, but here is a link to Brian Ahearns blog on influence.)
We also know that people are sensitive to base-rates and tehy may shape our social categories. Maybe not consciously so, but we are. And, there has been some suggestions lately that the basis of stereotypical beliefs have to do with those base-rate exposures.
So, this is something I’m thinking about the trust issue here. There seems to be a link between eye-color and face morphology (at least that is what is vaguely suggested). But, the trust comes from mere exposure. You look for markers of your in-group (quite unconsciously), and become familiar with a particular way of looking which you now trust. The base-rate for eye-color in Prague seemed to be mildly dominated by blue-eyes (99 blue, 61 green, 78 brown – self report). Sweden is becoming more mixed, with the degree of immigration we have, but it really, still, is dominated by blue. This is an empirical question, of course.
And, you know, since I am, after all, Blue eyed, maybe you should go and check what Razib and Christine (and PLOSone) have written about it. I have it on good authority that at least some of them have brown eyes.