Facial masking in Parkinson's disease is the reduction of automatic and controlled expressive movement of facial musculature, creating an appearance of apathy, social disengagement or compromised cognitive status. Research in western cultures demonstrates that practitioners form negatively biased impressions associated with patient masking. Socio-cultural norms about facial expressivity vary according to culture and gender, yet little research has studied the effect of these factors on practitioners' responses toward patients who vary in facial expressivity. This study evaluated the effect of masking, culture and gender on practitioners' impressions of patient psychological attributes. Practitioners (N = 284) in the United States and Taiwan judged 12 Caucasian American and 12 Asian Taiwanese women and men patients in video clips from interviews. Half of each patient group had a moderate degree of facial masking and the other half had near-normal expressivity. Practitioners in both countries judged patients with higher masking to be more depressed and less sociable, less socially supportive, and less cognitively competent than patients with lower masking. Practitioners were more biased by masking when judging the sociability of the American patients, and American practitioners' judgments of patient sociability were more negatively biased in response to masking than were those of Taiwanese practitioners. Practitioners were more biased by masking when judging the cognitive competence and social supportiveness of the Taiwanese patients, and Taiwanese practitioners' judgments of patient cognitive competence were more negatively biased in response to masking than were those of American practitioners. The negative response to higher masking was stronger in practitioner judgments of women than men patients, particularly American patients. The findings suggest local cultural values as well as ethnic and gender stereotypes operate on practitioners' use of facial expressivity in clinical impression formation.
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