Seeing Disfigured Faces Prompts Negative Brain and Behavior Responses

Posted on June 11, 2019

In contrast to the “beautiful is good” stereotype, where good-looking people are often automatically associated with positive characteristics, researchers at Penn Medicine have recently discovered the existence of the “disfigured is bad” bias. The study suggests that people with facial abnormalities like scars and birthmarks are more likely to be discriminated against. As judgments based on physical appearances are made almost instantaneously, understanding more about how this occurs can enable us to deal with such prejudices more effectively.

Research has shown that looking at attractive people stimulates areas of brain associated with reward, emotion and social cognition. In this study, neuroimaging was also used to examine neural and behavioral responses to faces which have been disfigured. Two experiments were conducted, and the subjects were shown two sets of photographs. The first set comprised of patients with facial abnormalities while the second set of photographs showed the faces of these patients after they have undergone a surgery. This investigates whether the “disfigured is bad” bias exists as well as measure any neural changes that may have occurred.

The first experiment concerns the behavioral component of the study, which tested if individuals did have implicit biases against people with facial anomalies and whether they are aware of them. Results suggest that individuals were unaware of their biases, hence, these biases are implicit. The second experiment was a functional MRI (fMRI) study that looked at neural responses to picture pairs while asking participants to engage in an unrelated gender judgement task. The results revealed greater activation in the visual regions of the brain, while activation decreased in areas linked to empathy. Therefore, this could mean that people are less likely to empathize with those who have facial abnormalities.

Through this research, it is found that corrective surgery could reduce negative responses towards people with facial disfigurement. However, it is important to seek other ways to reduce the prejudice against those with facial conditions. By understanding more about the ways we unconsciously judge others based on their physical appearances, we can then better deal with the stigmatization that people with disfigured faces experience.

Category(s):Prejudice / Discrimination

Source material from Science Daily

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