“Patients who present to facial plastic surgeons express concerns about how others will view them with their facial deformities,” she said. “This is a concern for patients who have pre-existing deformities. This is a concern for patients who are going to undergo some type of procedure that will lead to a deformity…. Previously, we have had very little data on facial perception of facial deformity—in other words, how do lay people view these faces when they see abnormalities on them?”
Earlier studies have found that attention is diverted from normal patterns to the deformities: Those looking at someone with a lesion on the cheek will deviate from the central triangle and look more at that cheek area, and those looking at the face with a crooked nose will dwell longer on the nose. People can come up with “some idea about the face” after looking at a particular area for as few as 200 milliseconds, Dr. Ishii said.
In their current experiment, Dr. Ishii and her team of researchers turned to how facial paralysis is seen. Sixty casual observers viewed images of paralyzed faces and non-paralyzed faces, both smiling and in repose, but no single observer saw the same person’s face more than once, so they saw each face either smiling or in repose. The images showed faces of people ranging from 18 to 72 years old.