Face-Off: Facial Features and Strategic Choice

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Abstract

I study experimentally a single-shot trust game where players have the opportunity to choose an avatar—a computer-generated face—to represent them. These avatars vary on several dimensions—trustworthiness, dominance, and threat—identified by previous work as influencing perceptions of those who view the faces (Todorov, Said, Engell, & Oosterhof, 2008). I take this previous work and ask whether subjects choose faces that are ex ante more trustworthy, whether selected avatars have an influence on strategy choices, and whether individuals who evaluate faces as more trustworthy are also more likely to trust others. Results indicate affirmative answers to all three questions. Additional experimental sessions used randomly assigned avatars. This design allows me to compare behavior when everyone knows avatars are self-selected versus when everyone knows they are randomly assigned. Random assignment eliminated all three effects observed when subjects chose their avatars.

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