I care, even after the first impression: Facial appearance-based evaluations in healthcare context

Katia Mattarozzi, Valentina Colonnello, Francesco De Gioia, Alexander Todorov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Purpose Prior research has demonstrated that healthcare providers’ implicit biases may contribute to healthcare disparities. Independent research in social psychology indicates that facial appearance-based evaluations affect social behavior in a variety of domains, influencing political, legal, and economic decisions. Whether and to what extent these evaluations influence approach behavior in healthcare contexts warrants research attention. Here we investigate the impact of facial appearance-based evaluations of trustworthiness on healthcare providers’ caring inclination, and the moderating role of experience and information about the social identity of the faces. Method Novice and expert nurses rated their inclination to provide care when viewing photos of trustworthy-, neutral-, and untrustworthy-looking faces. To explore whether information about the target of care influences caring inclination, some participants were told that they would view patients’ faces while others received no information about the faces. Results Both novice and expert nurses had higher caring inclination scores for trustworthy-than for untrustworthy-looking faces; however, experts had higher scores than novices for untrustworthy-looking faces. Regardless of a face's trustworthiness level, experts had higher caring inclination scores for patients than for unidentified individuals, while novices showed no differences. Conclusions Facial appearance-based inferences can bias caring inclination in healthcare contexts. However, expert healthcare providers are less biased by these inferences and more sensitive to information about the target of care. These findings highlight the importance of promoting novice healthcare professionals’ awareness of first impression biases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-72
Number of pages5
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Caring motivation
  • Facial appearance
  • First impression
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Social cognition
  • Social perception


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