A report led by Anjan Chatterjee, MD, FAAN, University of Pennsylvania, addresses “beauty is good–disfigured is bad” stereotypes. Research shows that using words that embody elements of both beauty and wellness may be able to bridge the perception gap.
According to a recent report sponsored by the non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI), good-looking people receive many advantages in life: they are more likely to be hired, given more pay, receive lesser punishments, and are assumed to be more intelligent and trustworthy. Conversely, a “disfigured-is-bad” bias can exist and people with minor facial disfigurements may be judged negatively and perceived as having undesirable personality traits (e.g., emotional instability, lazy versus hardworking). The complete report, “Beauty2Wellness: Mitigating Barriers and Building Bridges,” is available here.
The first study in the report, which was conducted by Anjan Chatterjee, MD, FAAN, University of Pennsylvania, tested this bias by asking observers to share initial impressions of 26 sets of pictures of faces (one affected by a disfigurement such as a carcinoma, a scar or small wound, or facial paralysis and one that had been treated to correct the disfigurement). The study confirmed that post-treatment faces were seen as having more positive personality traits than pre-treatment faces.
“The link between beauty and wellness is not obvious. An unhealthy preoccupation with beauty can emphasize a “beauty is good” stereotype, where people are judged based on how they look rather than how they act,” said Dr. Chatterjee. “Our first study showed that people make deep inferences about a person’s personality based on superficial features. Flawed faces are regarded as flawed people. The cosmetic industry can mitigate these judgments that likely adversely impacts people’s well-being at work and at play.”
Are people aware of this bias?
In a second phase of the study, the researchers asked if people were aware of harboring biases related to facial attributes.
“Understanding biases helps us understand how people might overcome them,” said
GWI Chair and CEO Susie Ellis. “This knowledge also contributes to building an egalitarian society that supports individual wellness, which is a goal of the Global Wellness Institute. ”
The results showed that people make automatic inferences about a person’s personality when they look at a face, and men are especially susceptible to adverse biases. The conclusion? Cosmetics could play an important role by limiting observable facial flaws, therefore, mitigating negative judgments.
Study Two: Building Bridges between Beauty and Wellness
The second study in the report, also sponsored by the GWI and conducted under the direction of Dr. Chatterjee, asked the question: If an automatic preoccupation with beauty – which is a $999 billion commercial enterprise –can contribute to unfairness, how do we shift responses to beauty to emphasize wellness?
By analyzing 10 years of Google news, the research team identified concepts that bridge beauty and wellness. With the exception of the category of “Culture and Self-care” (arts, education, entertainment, and cuisine) there was a notable similarity between the study’s linguistically derived categories, such as products and fitness, and the categories identified in a 2015 GWI report on the global wellness economy.
Dr. Chatterjee noted that he is very pleased to be working with the Institute. “This relationship has pushed my research in new directions. The focus on wellness is critical to grounding this research and the industry as a whole.”
He is also the author of The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art. “The new GWI study was rooted in the research and insights that Dr. Chatterjee explored in his book,” said Ellis.
The Global Wellness Institute conducts research and reports on analytics impacting the $3.7 trillion wellness industry. This report was underwritten with support from Biologique Recherche, Comfort Zone, Hydrafacial, Immunocologie, OM4 Organic Male, and Performance Health.