Study: Smiling May Not Make Us Appear Younger After All

Thursday, May 11, 2017 | Research and Publications

Conventional wisdom suggests that smiling makes you appear younger, but researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel beg to differ.

People who smile are actually perceived as older than those with a deadpan or surprised expression, according to a study published in the May 8th issue of Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

“Popular media promotes the idea that smiling makes you look younger,” adds Professor Tzvi Ganel,  head of the Laboratory for Visual Perception and Action in BGU’s Department of Psychology, in a news release. “Look at all of the smiling faces in skincare and dental ads. How many of us post smiling faces on social media?”

The researchers conducted a series of experiments intended to gauge age perception based on facial expressions. Forty BGU student participants were shown images of people and asked to rank them from oldest to youngest. They were shown pictures of smiling faces, neutral expressions and surprised looks. The participants ranked the smiling faces as the oldest, followed by neutral expressions, and surprised expressions as the youngest.

What’s more, when asked to recall their reactions after the experiment, study participants erroneously remembered identifying smiling faces as being younger than neutral ones.

“Ironically, we discovered that the same person can believe that smiling makes you appear younger and judge smiling faces older than neutral ones,” says co-author Melvyn Goodale, director of the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in Canada.

The researchers believe that smiling makes a person look older because of the wrinkle lines that form around the eyes. A surprised face, however, lifts and pulls the skin backward, smoothing any potential age-related wrinkles.

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