A study from the Perelman School of Medicine found evidence of a neurocognitive basis for human bias against facial anomalies, such as scars and growths.
Using surveys, social simulations, and functional MRI studies, the researchers compiled responses and attitudes of hundreds of participants towards a range of faces, ranging from attractive to average to anomalous, Penn Medicine News reported. On average, anomalous faces were more likely to be associated with negative personality characteristics, including untrustworthiness and anxiety.
Participants also noted that anomalous faces made them less happy and acknowledged their own negative expectations of people with anomalous faces. The study identified this stereotype as manifesting in the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, including fear and behavior.
The study was published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Lead author Clifford Workman, a postdoctoral researcher in the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics, told Penn Medicine News that the research presents helpful findings for designing interventions to educate people about their implicit biases towards people with facial anomalies.
The senior author of the study is Anjan Chatterjee, the head of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics and a Neurology professor at Penn Medicine. In 2019, Chatterjee led a similar study focused on the correlation between attractiveness and positive character traits, finding that people with attractive faces were considered to be more trustworthy and socially competent. People with facial disfigurements, however, were more often targets of discrimination.
Both studies made similar conclusions, finding that people with disfigured faces are often the victim of implicit negative biases.