Facial disfigurements can influence how observers attend to and interact with the person, leading to disease-avoidance behaviour and emotions (disgust, threat, fear for contagion). However, it is unclear whether this behaviour is reflected in the effect of the facial stigma on attention and perceptual encoding of facial information. We addressed this question by measuring, in a mixed antisaccade task, observers' speed and accuracy of orienting of visual attention towards or away from peripherally presented upright and inverted unfamiliar faces that had either a realistic looking disease-signalling feature (a skin discolouration), a non-disease-signalling control feature, or no added feature. The presence of a disfiguring or control feature did not influence the orienting of attention (in terms of saccadic latency) towards upright faces, suggesting that avoidance responses towards facial stigma do not occur during covert attention. However, disfiguring and control features significantly reduced the effect of face inversion on saccadic latency, thus suggesting an impact on the holistic processing of facial information. The implications of these findings for the encoding and appraisal of facial disfigurements are discussed.
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- face inversion
- facial disfigurements