Fascinating study (full PDF available) in a recent issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes from some researchers at Kellogg (the B-school, not the cereal). They subliminally showed participants photos of people that they either trusted or distrusted, liked or disliked. Then, they had them play the Trust Game with a stranger. After the liked and/or trusted photos, even though it was subliminal, the participants exhibited more trusting behavior toward the stranger. But they didn’t consciously rate the stranger as more trustworthy. It was totally unconscious.
When the subliminal priming was someone they trusted, the participants expected more reciprocity from the stranger. But when the subliminal priming was someone they liked, they exhibited more trusting behavior themselves but didn’t expect it in return. They were just unconsciously more generous.
They tried it with inanimate objects that the participants liked, but found no effect. There was also no difference between the disliked or distrusted priming and a neutral control condition. So we can subliminally prime people to trust, but not to distrust.
The authors speculate that companies can put photos or art of people that are trusted (Abe Lincoln maybe) on the walls when they want to encourage trust. Like in a conference room where you will be negotiating with outside people who aren’t aware of the practice. Sneaky!!