Perceived functional impact of abnormal facial appearance

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2003 Jun;111(7):2140-6; discussion 2147-8. doi: 10.1097/01.PRS.0000060105.63335.0C.


Functional facial deformities are usually described as those that impair respiration, eating, hearing, or speech. Yet facial scars and cutaneous deformities have a significant negative effect on social functionality that has been poorly documented in the scientific literature. Insurance companies are declining payments for reconstructive surgical procedures for facial deformities caused by congenital disabilities and after cancer or trauma operations that do not affect mechanical facial activity. The purpose of this study was to establish a large, sample-based evaluation of the perceived social functioning, interpersonal characteristics, and employability indices for a range of facial appearances (normal and abnormal). Adult volunteer evaluators (n = 210) provided their subjective perceptions based on facial physical appearance, and an analysis of the consequences of facial deformity on parameters of preferential treatment was performed. A two-group comparative research design rated the differences among 10 examples of digitally altered facial photographs of actual patients among various age and ethnic groups with "normal" and "abnormal" congenital deformities or posttrauma scars. Photographs of adult patients with observable congenital and posttraumatic deformities (abnormal) were digitally retouched to eliminate the stigmatic defects (normal). The normal and abnormal photographs of identical patients were evaluated by the large sample study group on nine parameters of social functioning, such as honesty, employability, attractiveness, and effectiveness, using a visual analogue rating scale. Patients with abnormal facial characteristics were rated as significantly less honest (p = 0.007), less employable (p = 0.001), less trustworthy (p = 0.01), less optimistic (p = 0.001), less effective (p = 0.02), less capable (p = 0.002), less intelligent (p = 0.03), less popular (p = 0.001), and less attractive (p = 0.001) than were the same patients with normal facial appearances. Facial deformity caused by trauma, congenital disabilities, and postsurgical sequelae present with significant adverse functional consequences. Facial deformities have a significant negative effect on perceptions of social functionality, including employability, honesty, and trustworthiness. Adverse perceptions of patients with facial deformities occur regardless of sex, educational level, and age of evaluator.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cicatrix / economics
  • Cicatrix / psychology*
  • Cicatrix / surgery
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / economics
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / psychology*
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / surgery
  • Employment / psychology
  • Facial Injuries / economics
  • Facial Injuries / psychology*
  • Facial Injuries / surgery
  • Facies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage / economics
  • Intelligence
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Perception*
  • Stereotyping