Scientists in Bristol have been given £500,000 to find out why some people with disfigurements cope better with their situation than others.
The University of the West of England study is being funded by a new charity called the Healing Foundation.
It will involve about 1,500 people from the South West, London and the Sheffield/Bradford area.
The information will be used to help those who experience difficulty coming to terms with their altered appearance.
Pam Warren, survivor of the 1999 Paddington rail crash, said: "The treatment of physical injuries is well understood and a great deal of time and effort has been spent on understanding the problems associated with mental trauma.
"But coping with disfigurement has, I think, largely been overlooked. I know from personal experience that it is not how the world looks at me but how I look at the world that matters."
Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are affected by visible disfigurement, through congenital abnormalities, disease or scarring from accidents.
The researchers say that the psychological and social impact of having a disfigurement can be enormous and life-changing, especially in today's image-conscious society which can marginalise those who appear different.
The study's director, Professor Nichola Rumsey, said: "It appears from research already carried out that the differences in adjustment between individuals are not related to the severity or cause of the condition.
"We want to find out why it is that one person can adapt very quickly and lead a full and active life, while another might end up avoiding social situations."
The team will look at a whole range of disfiguring conditions including skin conditions, such as acne, head and neck cancers, burns, amputations and hand surgery, as well as birth marks such as port wine stains.