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Member Spotlight: Clare Sutherland

Can I trust you?Dr Clare Sutherland

Within 100 milliseconds, that decision has been automatically made. We all reflexively form impressions of a person almost as soon as we see their face.

But not everyone comes to the same conclusion. Why might one person see someone as trustworthy, whereas someone else wouldn’t trust them as far as they could throw them?

That’s what Dr Clare Sutherland, a research fellow in the CCD Person Perception Program at the University of Western Australia, and her collaborators are working on in their latest study.

This study is supported through an ARC CCD Postdoc Exchange Scheme grant to Dr Sutherland. With this grant, she will travel to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, USA. There, she will work with one of the world’s leading experts on individual differences in face processing, Dr Jeremy Wilmer. The outcomes of this work will likely determine new directions in face processing research.

Her research has already changed our understanding of how judgements about trustworthiness, dominance, and attractiveness are formed. In a recent paper, she and her co-authors demonstrated that social impressions are affected by the person’s emotional expression and by the angle at which the face is viewed. Knowing how perspective and apparent emotional state change our social judgements gives insight into the social and mental processes that underpin these judgements.

But her research has more than just theoretical implications. As Dr Sutherland puts it, “It is vital to know when people trust, why people trust, and how we can stop them trusting in the wrong circumstances, especially given the rise of fake news." To discuss the real-world ramifications of her work, she will meet with Dr David Lick from the News team at Facebook in New York City. Facebook, as the world’s largest social media company with over 2.20 billion active users, has an interest in understanding what drives our online social interactions.

The general public is also interested in Clare’s research. In 2017, she gave a sold-out psychology talk at the ‘It’s All in your Head’ event held at the Bar Orient in Fremantle, WA. This event was part of the Pint of Science series; co-organised by Sutherland’s postgraduate student and Centre member Jemma Collova. Pint of Science is an international outreach festival that connects scientists with the local community in a relaxed atmosphere. Dr Sutherland says, “It's really interesting to see what people think and what questions they find important.”

The main question that she gets asked is, are facial impressions accurate? While there’s still more research to do in this area, she says, “Although there might be a kernel of truth to impressions sometimes, it would be surprising if people were very accurate, especially when looking at a photograph online that could be manipulated. The tantalising thing is that it feels like you should be accurate. You look at a face, and it just gives you an impression. It seems effortless, so you want to believe it’s true.”

Perhaps it’s best if we try to reserve judgement until we get to know someone.

Keep up-to-date with Dr Sutherland’s latest discoveries on Twitter: @C_AMSutherland

Further Information

Contact Details

Telephone: +61 2 9850 4127
Email : ccd@mq.edu.au
Web : www.ccd.edu.au

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