Psychology student research series, Vol III: Is trust in the eye of the beholder?

Hello, welcome to the third instalment in Ideospectus’ ongoing series of psychology student research posts.

Today I am joined by Michelle Coleman, who is studying psychology at the Advanced Graduate Diploma (4th year) level at the University of New England, Australia (UNE). Michelle is running an online experiment to inform her research project. This is an important professional development milestone for all psych researchers in training. They are permitted less than a year to propose then design a study; write an ethics application to seek official approval to conduct the study; collect, analyse and interpret the data; and finally, report their findings as part of a thesis that they must submit for examination. The 4th year is truly a feat of endurance and overcoming adversity.

The brief interview that follows serves two purposes: (1) to exemplify the diversity and high potential for meaningful contribution that student research in a regional Australian university has to offer; (2) to allow the students to invite you to their voluntary surveys.

If you are an adult Australian resident, please consider participating in Michelle’s experiment. It will take no more than 15 minutes to complete. Your participation will be immensely appreciated by Michelle, and also, will give you some hands-on experience of what a student university project can look like. Details are provided below, or you can click one of the links above. If you cannot or do not want to participate, please feel free to share the links with your Australian peers – thank you in advance.

Visual impressions of trustworthiness

UNE human research ethics committee (HREC) approval no: HE19-079

Greetings Michelle. Could you tell us a little about yourself, and what has brought you to research psychology?

Thanks for the intro Justin. I currently live in the north west of Sydney and in between renovating my home and study I enjoy looking after about 700 staff as the HR & Wellbeing Manager in a local government organisation. I am totally driven by knowledge and learning and I can’t recall a time where I haven’t been studying something. It is my interest in human behaviour and what motivates people that have taken me down the path of psychology.

I trained as a teacher early in my career but discovered that although I love working with people I enjoy planning and strategy so much more than being in front of a class of students all day. This led me into the local government sector where I have been involved in qualitative research, integrated planning, learning and development and human resources.

I began thinking seriously about psychology when someone close to me was struggling with an anxiety disorder. I could see that psychology merged together all the things I love to do and would potentially use my strengths for the greater good. So here I am in fourth year doing my first ‘real research project’.

In a sense, trust is not something we can quantify. I can’t buy 100 grams of trust at the trust shop. So, what does trustworthiness mean to you, and why should we care?

For me, trustworthiness can be described simply as an automatic decision based on how warm we perceive another person to be. This feeling of warmth makes us more prepared to be vulnerable and cooperate with another person. We make these judgements by linking facial features with our own perceptions and experiences of the world. Our judgements are usually very quick – they are not always accurate because we use shortcuts that rely on what we already know, or think we know.

For example, someone with a babyface is usually perceived as more trustworthy because of the unconscious association this has with caregiving, however a person with a babyface is not always more trustworthy.

I think we should care because our perceptions of the world are not always reality, and inaccurate judgements impact on the quality of life for some groups of people – particularly people who are not well understood. This is the case for many people with mental illness who are judged on the prominent negative stereotypes created in the media. This stigma causes mistrust and social exclusion that results in isolation for people who are already suffering enough. I hope this research can shed light on how we can encourage people to use more accurate and relevant information when making a decision about whether or not they can trust someone with a mental illness.

Your project design is an online experiment that I can appreciate has taken considerable effort to debug. What would you say to people thinking about doing a 4th year psychology research project, in terms of effective project design and time management tips?

Be organised – especially if you work as well as study. I tend to plan around my weekends because during the week I don’t have a lot of brain space for anything other than work.

Stay close to your supervisor because you will need guidance and support to keep going and someone to listen to your ideas.

Be kind to yourself. It’s hard work and can be high pressure at times so break it down into bite sized steps, make sure you have regular time out to let your brain have a rest.

Be curious about the world and approach your research with the attitude there is something to find out and something to learn even if it isn’t what you expected you would find.

Thanks for your time, Michelle. Please let our readers know how they can access more info about your study.

You can participate in my online experiment by clicking on this link

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