Plastic Surgery Changes Perceived Personality Traits

Michael J. Reilly

Michael J. Reilly

People often infer others’ personality attributes from visual cues, called facial profiling by 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

These researchers asked raters to evaluate photographs of 30 different women shown with neutral facial expressions.

Each rater judged 10 images, including five (5) photographs before the person had plastic surgery procedures and five (5) images following surgical procedures including:

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

Michael Reilly-Preoperative-Postoperative photos

These procedures resulted in cosmetic improvements to eyes and mouth, two regions crucial to expressing and interpreting emotions.

The raters were not informed that some people in the photos had plastic surgery procedures, and they were asked to evaluate each photograph on a 7-point scale for perceived:

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

Michael Reilly - Pre-Post 2Raters assigned higher scores for likeability, social skills, attractiveness, and femininity to the images following plastic surgery compared with pre-surgery image ratings.

The research team concluded:
“The eyes are highly diagnostic for attractiveness as well as for trustworthiness…patients undergoing lower (eyelid surgery) were found to be significantly more attractive and feminine, and had … improved trustworthiness...

“The corner of the mouth is … diagnostic … for … happy and surprised expressions and …  the perception of personality traits, such as extroversion.

“…upturn of the mouth and fullness in the cheeks can make a person look more intelligent and socially skilled.

“… patients undergoing a facelift procedure … are found to be significantly more likeable and socially skilled postoperatively.”

Volunteers in a different study attributed personality traits to neutral faces when they perceived a similarity to standard emotional expressions, reported Princeton’s Christopher P. Said and Alexander Todorov with Nicu Sebe of University of Trento.

Christopher P. Said

Christopher P. Said

Neutral faces that were rated as positive resembled typical facial expressions of happiness, whereas faces seen as negative resembled facial displays of disgust and fear.

Faces viewed as threatening resembled facial expressions of anger.
These trait inferences resulted from overgeneralization in emotion recognition systems.

Nicu Sebe

Nicu Sebe

Faces that resemble typical emotional expressions can lead to misattributed personality traits and biased impressions.

However, these judgments can change for the better 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:

©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? –


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