Illusory trust: Kanizsa shapes incidentally increase trust and willingness to invest

Thorsten M. Erle*, Michael K. Zuern

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
60 Downloads (Pure)


Previous research has shown that the completion of basic perceptual processes is intrinsically pleasant. In the absence of diagnostic and objective cues to trustworthiness, nondiagnostic factors such as positive affect can incidentally lead to reported and behavioral trust. On the basis of these two premises, it was tested whether positive affect from the completion of perceptual processes has implications for the formation of trust in first-time business-consumer interactions. We tested this hypothesis in four experiments, using the famous Kanizsa illusion as an exemplary perceptual process that has been shown to trigger positive affect. We found that participants trusted companies who featured a Kanizsa shape as their logo more than companies with closely matched logos that did not allow for the completion of a basic perceptual process. This was evident on self-reported (Experiment 1) as well as behavioral (Experiments 2-4) measures of trust. This effect even persisted under incentivized conditions (Experiment 4) and was partially mediated by the intrinsic pleasantness of perception (Experiment 3). These findings for the first time demonstrate that positive affect is not the only consequence of perception, but rather has further trickle-down consequences for social judgments and economic decision making. Perceptual illusions seem to elicit illusory trust. Therefore, these novel findings bear important implications not only for both logo design and marketing but also for consumer decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671-682
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • affect
  • economic behavior
  • illusory contours
  • Kanizsa shapes
  • trust


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