Trusting others is central for cooperative endeavors to succeed. To decide whether to trust or not, people generally make eye contact. As pupils of interaction partners align, mimicking pupil size helps them to make well-informed trust decisions. How the brain integrates information from the partner and from their own bodily feedback to make such decisions was unknown because previous research investigated these processes separately. Herein, we take a multimethod approach and demonstrate that pupil mimicry is regulated by the theory-of-mind network, and informs decisions of trust by activating the precuneus. This evolutionary ancient neurophysiological mechanism that is active in human adults, infants, and chimpanzees promotes affiliation, bonding, and trust through mimicry.Abstract
The human eye can provide powerful insights into the emotions and intentions of others; however, how pupillary changes influence observers’ behavior remains largely unknown. The present fMRI–pupillometry study revealed that when the pupils of interacting partners synchronously dilate, trust is promoted, which suggests that pupil mimicry affiliates people. Here we provide evidence that pupil mimicry modulates trust decisions through the activation of the theory-of-mind network (precuneus, temporo-parietal junction, superior temporal sulcus, and medial prefrontal cortex). This network was recruited during pupil-dilation mimicry compared with interactions without mimicry or compared with pupil-constriction mimicry. Furthermore, the level of theory-of-mind engagement was proportional to individual’s susceptibility to pupil-dilation mimicry. These data reveal a fundamental mechanism by which an individual’s pupils trigger neurophysiological responses within an observer: when interacting partners synchronously dilate their pupils, humans come to feel reflections of the inner states of others, which fosters trust formation.