How To Look Trustworthy

by Tracy R. Walsh

Smiling_Girl,_a_Courtesan,_Holding_an_Obscene_Image 2

It’s all in the cheeks:

The Dutch psychologist Corine Dijk gave volunteers a series of photos of people, some blushing and some not, accompanied by tales of their recent mishaps, ranging from appearing overdressed at a party to farting in a lift. The blushers were judged more favorably, despite their indiscretion.

Other research has found that if you blush people are more likely to forgive you, and it can even avert a conflict. When you’re trying to work out who to trust, it makes sense to choose the people who would feel guilty if they did anything wrong. The ideal person is someone who would blush and give themselves away.

Update from a reader:

That blushing article is really troubling (as is the research producing it). Everyone blushes, but not everyone’s blush is visible to everyone. Indeed, this sounds a lot like Thomas Jefferson’s infamous “Query XIV” in Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he aesthetically assesses human beings of European and African descent:

Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us.  And is this difference of no importance?  Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races?  Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race?  Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species.  The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?

In other words, Jefferson’s eye can’t see the blush. He “sees” like a black-and-white photocopier that would later reproduce complex, verisimilitudinous images of lighter-complexioned people and reduce images and thus the humanity of darker-complexioned people to an undifferentiated dark blop. It doesn’t take too much reason and imagination to see how pernicious and dangerous this all is amid current conversations about how cops see black children as “less innocent and less young than white children.” Jefferson’s beliefs are hardly a relic of the past.

(Gerard van Honthorst’s Smiling Girl, a Courtesan, Holding an Obscene Image, 1625, via Wikimedia Commons)