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People Think You’re Older When You Smile

People Think You’re Older When You Smile

May 3, 2018

Social Sciences & Humanities

Quartz – The next time someone tells you to smile for the camera, feel free to frown and respectfully decline. While conventional wisdom holds that a teeth-baring grin makes you appear more attractive, Ben-Gurion University researchers have discovered otherwise.

Prof. Tzvi Ganel

BGU’s study, published in Psychonomics Bulletin and Review, led by Prof. Tzvi Ganel, head of the Laboratory for Visual Perception and Action in BGU’s Department of Psychology, found that people who smiled in photos were perceived as looking older than they did with a neutral expression. However, these perceptions fade with time—precisely because we’re so conditioned to associate smiling with youthfulness.

The study was broken-down into three parts. In the first two experiments, participants looked at photos and were asked to estimate the ages of the men and women.

Some participants looked at a smiling photo of a given person, while others looked at a neutral photo of the same person. Those who saw the neutral photos guessed the models were, on average, a year younger than the same models were estimated to be when smiling.

Yet in a second experiment, when asked to recall the results, subjects overwhelmingly remembered the smiling faces as more youthful. The same phenomenon occurred in a third experiment, when the subjects were asked to estimate the ages of smiling, neutral and surprised faces. Surprised faces seemed youngest of all to participants, while smiling faces looked oldest. But, again, they couldn’t recall their initial perceptions correctly in retrospect.

“The findings show, for the first time, that people can erroneously believe that smiling makes one appear younger, while at the same time rating smiling faces as older than neutral faces,” says Prof. Ganel.

So why does smiling age us up?  Prof. Ganel explains that smiling causes wrinkles around our eyes. Those lines aren’t emphasized when we have a neutral expression, and when we widen our eyes in surprise, the wrinkles get smoothed out.

However, culturally, people tend to associate smiles with youth, which is likely why study subjects imagined that they rated smiling faces as youngest.

Read more on the Quartz website >>