Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Another Look at Facial Disfigurement

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Another Look at Facial Disfigurement

Article excerpt

In a now classic article entitled, "What is beautiful is good," Dion, Berscheild and Walster (1972) outlined the existence of a "physical attractiveness stereotype." This stereotype works so that people who are seen to be physically attractive are also seen to be more socially desirable, likely to secure more prestigious jobs, have happier marriages, be better parents and more competent spouses, more likely to find an acceptable spouse, and marry earlier.

Further studies and reviews of physical attractiveness (e.g. Rumsey and Bull, 1986; Cunningham, 1986; Rumsey, Bull & Gahagan, 1982) have found that physical attractiveness influences heterosexual dating, peer acceptance, teacher behavior, attitude change, employment interviews, and jury decisions, and that attractive people are less likely to be judged to be mentally ill, are liked and helped more, and judged to have higher social skills and greater opportunities for social interaction than unattractive people.

The appearance stereotype also operates for clients of rehabilitation services. For example, students in rehabilitation counseling and social work, after hearing an audiotape of an initial interview, rated the attractive female more positively than the unattractive female on all factors including friendliness, employability, prognosis, motivation, severity of presenting problem, and adjustment (Mercer, Andrews & Mercer, 1983).

College students attribute greater psychological disturbances to target persons (persons alleged to have been confined to a psychiatric hospital or be in counseling) who are unattractive, even when warned that attractiveness is unimportant (Jones, Hansson & Philips, 1978), and are significantly more likely to attribute epilepsy to unattractive persons than attractive persons (Hansson and Duffield, 1976).

Similarly, Bordieri, Sotolongo and Wilson (1983) had subjects view a picture and listen to a tape recording giving a brief account of a victim's automobile accident which left the victim paralyzed through spinal cord injury. Results showed that the attractive victim's paralysis was perceived as significantly less permanent and would take less time to recover than the unattractive victim. Interestingly, the attractive person was seen as having more responsibility for his or her accident, perhaps also indicating that attractive people are perceived to have greater control over themselves and their actions than do unattractive persons.

The Significance of the Face

Simon (1972) considers the face to be "the site of our beauty and attractiveness, and which, more than any other part of the body, distinguishes one human being from another" (p. 67). Indeed it is hard to downplay the importance of the face in human interactions and in forming social judgements, especially in the beginning phases. For example, in initial encounters, people generally focus on the face as it is the most specialized area of communications in the body, and provides information on how the encounter should proceed (Argyle, 1983).

In an ingenious study, Cunningham (1986) investigated the relation between specific adult female facial features and the attraction, attribution, and altruistic responses of adult males. He found that higher and wider eyes, greater distance between the eyes, smaller chin, smaller overall nose size, prominent cheekbones and narrower cheeks, higher eyebrows, larger smile and dilated pupils were all associated with higher ratings of attractiveness. These types of measures, which are measured in millimeters, also influence perceptions of intelligence, sociability, assertiveness, modesty, fertility, likelihood of an extramarital affair, whether the person is likely to be a beneficiary of self-sacrificial actions (such as loaning money) and desirability for job hiring, sexual intercourse and childbearing.

Similarly, McArthur and Apatow (1984) showed the importance of specific facial features- namely that of having a "baby-face" (defined as having large eyes, low vertical placement of features, and short features). …

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