IMPORTANCE When able to identify facial paralysis, members of society regard individuals with facial paralysis differently. They perceive a decrease in attractiveness, more negative affect, and lower quality of life. However, the ability of lay people in society to accurately identify the presence of facial paralysis has not yet been defined. OBJECTIVE To determine societal members’ ability to (1) identify paralysis in varying degrees of paralysis severity and (2) localize the defect on the face. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS A prospective observational study conducted in an academic tertiary referral center using a group of 380 casual observers was carried out. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Surveys were designed containing smiling and repose images of normal faces and faces with unilateral facial paralysis of 3 severity levels (low, medium, and high) as categorized by House-Brackmann (HB) grade. The photographs were then shown to casual observers in a web-based survey. After reviewing both normal faces and faces with varying degrees of paralysis, they then indicated (1) whether paralysis was present and (2) if so, where the paralysis was on the face. RESULTS A total of 380 participants (267 [70.3%] women and 113 [29.7%] men with a mean [SD] age of 29  years) successfully completed the survey, viewing 2860 facial photographs in aggregate. The accuracy rate of identifying paralysis increased from low-grade through high-grade paralysis. Facial paralysis was identified in 249 (34.6%) of 719 facial photographs with low-grade paralysis, 448 (63.2%) of 709 with medium-grade paralysis, and 696 (96.7%) of 720 with high-grade paralysis (χ2 = 912.6, P < .001); 6.2% (44/731) of normal faces were incorrectly identified as having paralysis (χ2 = 912.6, P < .001). Participants correctly localized paralysis in 157 (63.0%) of 249 low-grade photographs, 307 (68.5%) of 448 medium-grade photographs, and 554 (79.6%) of 696 high-grade photographs (χ2 = 32.5, P < .001). In general, participants tended to identify facial paralysis more accurately in smiling vs repose faces (48.6% vs 20.6%, 92.4% vs 33.7%, and 96.7% vs 96.6% in low-, medium-, and high-grade paralysis, respectively) (χ2 = 62.2, P < .001; χ2 = 262.6, P < .001; χ2 = 0.0, P = .96, respectively). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE The ability of individuals to identify the presence of facial paralysis increased as paralysis severity increased. Further, smiling increased accurate identification. However, even when individuals can identify paralysis, they are not necessarily able to accurately localize the paralysis on a face. This may speak to a phenomenon in which perception of a facial defect comes from a holistic interpretation of a face, rather than a clinically accurate specification of the defect location. These findings are important in the future counseling of patients.
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