Plastic Surgery Changes Perceived Personality Traits

Michael J. Reilly

Michael J. Reilly

People often evaluate others using facial profiling making inferences of personality attributes by visual observation, according to Georgetown University Hospital’s Michael J. Reilly, Jaclyn A. Tomsic and Steven P. Davison, collaborating with Stephen J. Fernandez of MedStar Health Research Institute.
This cognitive shortcut can lead to biased impressions and limited opportunities for those unfavorably judged.

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

The research team asked observers to rate women’s personality and character traits following plastic surgery procedures between 2009, and 2013 including:

  • Chin implant,
  • Eyebrow-lift,
  • Lower blepharoplasty (lower eye lift),
  • Upper blepharoplasty (upper eye lift),
  • Neck-lift,
  • Rhytidectomy (face-lift).

Judges assigned higher scores for likeability, social skills, attractiveness, and femininity following plastic surgery compared with their pre-surgery ratings.

Michael Reilly-Preoperative-Postoperative photosPreoperative and postoperative photographs of 30 women exhibiting “well-matched neutral facial expressions” were split into 6 groups, each with 5 preoperative and 5 postoperative photographs of different participants.

Steven Davison

Steven Davison

At least 24 raters, unaware that participants had plastic surgery procedures, evaluated each photograph on a 7-point scale for:

  • Aggressiveness,
  • Extroversion,
  • Likeability,
  • Risk-seeking,
  • Social skills,
  • Trustworthiness,
  • Attractiveness.

Reilly’s team noted that these surgical procedures provided cosmetic improvements to two regions crucial to expressing and interpreting emotions: eyes and mouth.

Michael Reilly - Pre-Post 2They concluded that:
“The eyes are highly diagnostic for attractiveness as well as for trustworthiness which may explain why, in our patient population, patients undergoing lower (eyelid surgery) were found to be significantly more attractive and feminine, and had a trend toward improved trustworthiness as well.”

“The corner of the mouth is the diagnostic region for both happy and surprised expressions and plays an important role in the perception of personality traits, such as extroversion.
“A subtle upturn of the mouth and fullness in the cheeks can make a person look more intelligent and socially skilled.
“This appearance may explain why patients undergoing a facelift procedure … are found to be significantly more likeable and socially skilled postoperatively.”

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

These results validate empirical findings that people make trait inferences based on facial appearance and structural resemblance to standard emotional expressions, described by University of San Francisco’s Paul Ekman.

Volunteers attributed personality traits to neutral faces when they detected a resemblance to standard emotional expressions, reported Princeton’s Christopher P. Said and Alexander Todorov with Nicu Sebe of University of Trento in their study applying a Bayesian network classifier trained to detect emotional expressions in facial images.

Christopher P. Said

Christopher P. Said

Neutral faces perceived as positive resemble typical facial expressions of happiness, whereas faces seen as negative resemble facial displays of disgust and fear.
Faces viewed as threatening resemble facial expressions of anger.

Trait inferences result from overgeneralization in emotion recognition systems, which typically extract accurate information about a person’s emotional state.

Nicu Sebe

Nicu Sebe

However, faces that bear subtle resemblance to emotional expressions can lead to misattributed personality traits and biased impressions.
These judgments can change for the better when a person’s appearance changes after plastic surgery.

-*To what extent do people’s personality traits seems different following plastic surgery?

-*How often are people treated differently following plastic surgery?

*What are ways to avoid confusing emotional expressions with personality traits?

Related Posts:

Twitter:  @kathrynwelds

©Kathryn Welds


5 thoughts on “Plastic Surgery Changes Perceived Personality Traits

  1. fwade

    Hi Kathryn,

    OMG – this is a stunner.

    On a separate note, the post I did for you on Women vs. Men’s Time Management Skills… are you still planning to use it? Or did I just miss it completely?



  2. Sharna

    I’m not surprised by this study. However, it is interesting to learn just how deep our ‘first impressions’ based on physical characteristics really go. Rather disconcerting.

    1. kathrynwelds Post author

      You are so right, Sharna, that the biasing impact of physical characteristics can be disconcerting.
      Recognizing the power – and often inaccuracy – of first impressions enables people to increase awareness of potential misperceptions and take corrective steps.
      Heidi Grant Halvorson of Columbia suggests strategies to repair mistaken first impressions in No One Understands You and What to Do About It –

  3. kathrynwelds Post author

    Francis Wade wrote:
    OMG – this is a stunner.
    On a separate note, the post I did for you on Women vs. Men’s Time Management Skills… are you still planning to use it? Or did I just miss it completely?

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks for your note, Francis, and your inspiration for Women, Men, and Time: Differences in “Managing” a Limited Resource, published 29 July 2015 @

  4. kathrynwelds Post author

    Gary W. Kelly wrote:

    This fits with the previous posts on perceived attractiveness. A part of why this sample may have been rated more highly after plastic surgery may have been due to increased confidence, and an improved self image. People are literally more likely to “face the world”, as opposed to prior behaviors of hiding themselves, minimizing interactions, etc.

    It makes the case that “cosmetic” surgery is int entirely cosmetic at all. It can be life changing and address more issues than aesthetic ones. Hopefully, these findings should encourage everyone to make life style adjustments that maintain an optimal physical appearance, as it is best to avoid having to have plastic surgery to correct features that may have changed more due to lifestyle than any medical condition.

    Kathryn Welds replied:

    Thanks, Gary, for the reminder that optimal physical health based on a healthy lifestyle is even more important than physical appearance.
    For more on the biasing impact of attractive physical appearance, see:

    * The Attractiveness Bias: “Cheerleader Effect”, Positive Attributions, and “Distinctive Accuracy” –

    * Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance? –

    * Much Does Appearance Matter? –

    * Presence: “Gravitas”, Communication…and Appearance? –

    * as Personal Brand: Implicit Requirements for Personal Appearance? –

    -Attractive Appearance Helps Men Gain Business Funding – But Not Women? –


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s