Trait inferences based solely on facial appearance affect many social decisions. Here we tested whether the effects of such inferences extend to the perception of physical sensations. In an actual clinical setting, we show that healthcare providers’ facial appearance is a strong predictor of pain experienced by patients during a medical procedure. The effect was specific to familiarity: facial features of healthcare providers that convey feelings of familiarity were associated with a decrease in patients’ perception of pain. In addition, caring appearance of the healthcare providers was significantly related to patients’ satisfaction with the care they received. Besides indicating that rapid, unreflective trait inferences from facial appearance may affect important healthcare outcomes, these findings contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms underlying social modulation of pain perception.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)