People With Facial Paralysis are Viewed as Less Happy

First Posted: Sep 18, 2014 05:28 AM EDT

People battling facial paralysis are often viewed as unhappy because they lack the ability to communicate via facial expression, a study states.

Facial paralysis is known to be a potentially catastrophic condition. These people are also more likely to be perceived as depressed. In the latest study, researchers at the Oregon State University, highlight the importance of facial expressions in day-to-day communication, indicating that people may be partial towards people with facial paralysis just on account of their disability.

Led by Kathleen Bogart, an assistant professor, this new study claims that lack of facial expression leads to perceptions of unhappiness. She based her finding on an experiment that compared how emotions are perceived based on various forms of communication.

"People are more wary and more likely to form a negative impression of someone with a disability. Identifying that stigma is the first step to addressing it," said Bogart who specializes in ableism or prejudice about disabilities.

A few of the basic facial expressions are communicated universally across various cultures. But those with facial paralysis or other facial movement disorders fail to communicate as they lack the emotional expression and remain unresponsive in a social situation.

Using 120 participants, Bogart tried to understand how facial paralysis was perceived by those without any such condition. To investigate this, the participants without any facial paralysis, were made to listen to videos of people with varying degrees of facial paralysis. After which, they were made to rate the emotion of the subject as the person recounted happy or sad experiences.

The participants were shown videos that showed several communication channels including the video of just the person's face, video of the face and body, or voice-only audio with no video, or combination of several types of communication.

People with severe facial paralysis were rated as less happy and less sad when compared to those with milder facial paralysis. This confirms that people rely greatly on communication channels to perceive emotions and those with facial paralysis face stigma.

"It's not all about the face," Bogart said. "Studies like this tell us more about the way people communicate, verbally and non-verbally." 

The finding was documented in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.

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