Smiling Just Might Age You
June 19, 2017
Jerusalem Online — We’ve been told that smiling makes us look younger, but new research from Ben-Gurion University suggests the exact opposite may be true—at least on first encounter.
According to the study, published recently in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, people flashing their pearly whites were initially perceived by participants as being older than those with other expressions.
The inspiration for the study? Prof. Tzvi Ganel, head of the Laboratory for Visual Perception and Action in BGU’s Department of Psychology, wanted to explore whether popular media was erroneously promoting the idea that smiling equates to youthfulness.
“Look at all of the smiling faces in skincare and dental ads. And how many of us post smiling faces on social media?”
To nail down the relationship between smiling and perceived youthfulness, researchers showed 40 BGU student participants images of people with various expressions and asked them to rank from oldest to youngest. Included were smiling faces, neutral expressions and surprised looks. Surprisingly, participants ranked smiling faces as the oldest, followed by neutral expressions, with surprised expressions coming in youngest.
But final results weren’t that simple. When, after the experiment, participants were asked to recall their reactions, they mistakenly remembered identifying smiling faces as being younger than neutral ones, completely negating their first impression.
Prof. Ganel explains: “Ironically, we discovered that the same person can believe that smiling makes you appear younger, while at the same time judge smiling faces older than neutral ones.”