"Our faces are conveying these traits, even when we're not intending to," said study co-author Michael J. Reilly, an assistant professor of facial reconstructive surgery at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. "All of our faces do this all of the time, but some of our faces are more prone to expressing an emotion."
The reactions people have to those traits, via looking at physical appearance, is rooted in our brain functioning and evolution, Reilly said.
For the study, 173 respondents -- 110 women and 63 men -- viewed photos of 30 white women who had procedures such as face lifts, upper and lower eye lifts and neck lifts. The before-and-after photos were mixed in different groupings so there wouldn't be a comparison bias.
The women were rated on eight traits. Overall, researchers found, the women's post-operation photos were given higher rankings for social skills, likability, attractiveness and femininity.
The after-surgery photos also trended higher in trustworthiness rankings, but the connection wasn't statistically significant.
And though the post-operation photos as a whole were rated more positively than the pre-operation images, four of the women photographed for the study were actually rated worse following their procedures.
Surgery, Reilly cautions, can leave patients being perceived differently -- and that's not always a good thing.
"Each individual is taking on the potential risk of negative results," he said of plastic surgery patients. "You might come out looking less likable, or less socially skilled, which can obviously have lots of impacts in someone's daily life."
Reilly, who mostly performs reconstructive surgery, does some cosmetic surgery as well and wanted to look more critically at such procedures to understand the potential impacts they could have. "I really wanted to make sure that when I was offering cosmetic surgery to patients, that I was actually doing something good for them," he said.