Facial Piercings and Perceptions of
Intelligence and Attractiveness
Q: I’m a man and I want to get a facial piercing. Is that going to change how people view me? Does it matter where the piercing is?
A: It might. Research has shown that facial piercings change people’s judgments of a person’s characteristics and personality as well as their perceived attractiveness.
A group of researchers across a few countries (UK, Malaysia, and Austria) sought out to determine how facial piercings influence how people are perceived. They published their results in the journal European Psychologist in 2012.
To test this hypothesis, they digitally created a series of images of male and female faces.
They created one standard female face, and one standard male face.
Then, they took the faces and created photographs that were either:
- Plain (no piercings)
- With single piercings on the right eyebrow, right nostril, right ear, or bottom lip
- With multiple combinations of piercings at all of those locations
Then, the researchers recruited 230 women and 210 men from Central Europe (mostly Austria). These participants had a variety of religious beliefs, political beliefs, levels of education, and relationship statuses.
Each of the participants filled out a survey of their own personality to determine levels of their “Big Five” personality characteristics and some other characteristics. Namely:
- Sensation-seeking (whether they seek out exciting and intense experiences)
Each of the participants also indicated whether they themselves had piercings or tattoos and where.
The participants then viewed each of the photographs in random order and rated each on:
- Male models with facial piercings were generally rated as less intelligent and less attractive than control models with no piercings.
- Models with multiple facial piercings were rated as the least intelligent and least attractive of them all.
- The facial piercings that had the least effect on judgments of intelligence AND attractiveness were nose, and a combination of eye, ear, and nose.
- Some judges were more likely to rate piercings more highly. Specifically, judges who were high on Openness and Extraversion, those who sought out intense experiences and political liberals were all more likely to be okay with piercings.
- Unfortunately, facial piercings seem to have a negative effect on perceptions of a person’s intelligence and attractiveness.
- Does this mean that nobody should ever get facial piercings? Not necessarily.
- The key is to wear with confidence, know the effect it has on people, and know your audience.
- If you spend most of your time with open, extraverted people, liberal people, or those who seek out new and intense experiences, then they are less likely to judge you negatively for having facial piercings.
Swami, V., Stieger, S., Pietschnig, J., Voracek, M., Furnham, A., & Tovee, M. J. (2012). The influence of facial piercings and observer personality on perceptions of physical attractiveness and intelligence. European Psychologist, 17(3), 213-221. Link: https://psycnet.apa.org/journals/epp/17/3/213/