A new study indicates that having a single well-healed facial scar does not tend to have a negative impact on first impressions of attractiveness, confidence and friendliness. However, specific scar locations, such as a perpendicular scar at the mid-lower eyelid may result in lower perceived attractiveness, confidence and friendliness. The study was published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Scars can form as a consequence of injuries such as cuts and burns or as a consequence of various illnesses. They also form as results of cuts during surgical procedures. After an injury has healed, scar tissue may form making the place of the healed injury visible on the skin for years after.
Intentional creation of scars, the process known as scarification, has been a part of many cultures through history. Scars were intentionally formed in ways that conveyed specific meanings within the culture.In certain cultures, specific types of scares, such as, for example, battle scars or dueling scars, can be treated as badges of honor, but a widespread stereotype is that scars generally reduce attractiveness of a person.
A considerable amount of work of plastic surgeons is devoted to trying to minimize the severity of lacerations and scars. This is especially the case with facial scars. One of the fundamental teachings of facial surgery states that cuts should be made away from highly viewed parts of the face in a way that reduces the later visibility of scars as much as possible.
Study author Zachary D. Zapatero and his colleagues wanted to examine whether the existence of well-healed scars really impacts judgements of one’s attractiveness and character in situations of a first impression. First impressions are important as they are virtually split-second judgements that are made when first meeting a person that can seriously shape future interactions with that person.
Study authors selected photographs of 50 faces without any anomalies and with neutral expressions from the Chicago Face Database. Half of the pictures were of female and the other half were of male faces. The numbers of attractive, unattractive and average faces were balanced based on the ratings available in the database. Researchers than added digitally rendered scars based on photos of real scars to the pictures.
“Scars were placed at four locations: forehead (F), lower eyelid (E), cheek (C), or upper lip (L); in the middle (M) or border (B) of anatomical subunits; and by orientation parallel (=) or perpendicular (+) to resting facial tension lines,” study authors explained and added that equal numbers of scars were added to the left and the right side of faces.
Each participant rated images of 50 different faces. Each face was presented only once to each participant, but there were 15 variants of each face with different scar configurations or without scars. The variant of the face photograph that would be presented to each participant was selected randomly. Participants were 1,777 MTurk workers, 52% percent were males and close to 70% were white.
Results showed that there was no difference in mean attractiveness ratings between variants of faces with a scar and without a scar. The presence or absence of a scar also had no effect on the assessment of confidence of the person in the photograph. However, scarred faces were, on average, rated as friendlier than unscarred faces.
When the position of the scar was taken into account, results showed that the scar location did not affect the ratings of attractiveness. Faces with scars on the forehead were rated as more confident and friendlier. Scars on the lower lid and upper lip did not impact confidence and friendliness ratings. Whether the scar was oriented along resting facial tension lines and its position in anatomical subunits of the face did not affect the ratings. Researchers also detected differences in ratings regarding some of the more complex aspects of scar positions.
“On average, a single well-healed facial scar does not negatively affect first impressions of attractiveness, confidence, or friendliness. Specific scar location and orientation combinations, however—such as a perpendicular scar of the lower eyelid subunit—may be an outlier in this regard, resulting in lower perceived attractiveness, confidence, and friendliness,” study authors concluded.
The study sheds light on the way scars affect perceptions of attractiveness and character. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, researchers used a limited selection of well-healed scars. It is possible that perceptions of other types of scars or more pronounced scars might not be the same. Additionally, the study used ratings of static photographs. It is possible that perceptions of scars in real life or in videos, where the scar can be viewed under different conditions and in during motion of the face might be different.
The study, Facial Scars: Do Position and Orientation Matter?”, was authored by Zachary D. Zapatero, Clifford I. Workman, Christopher L. Kalmar, Stacey Humphries, Mychajlo S. Kosyk, Anna R. Carlson, Jordan W. Swanson, Anjan Chatterjee, and Jesse A. Taylor.