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Smiling makes you look older

Smiling is like breakfast. We are convinced that it's good for us, but the small amount of reliable and factual information we have on the phenomenon indicates otherwise. Our understanding of smiling has grown thanks to the Israeli psychologist Tzvi Ganel. He will soon publish a study in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, which reveals that we estimate people to be older when they smile.

The researchers divided their subjects into two groups. Both groups were given photos to look at of the same person – person A, B, C and so on. One group saw a photo of person A with a neutral facial expression; the other group got see a photo of person A smiling.

With person B the groups were switched. Both groups saw the same number of photos of smiling and 'neutral-expression' people.

The participants were then asked to guess the age of the people in the photos. After they had estimated, the researchers asked the participants what effect smiling had on the age they guessed. Did someone look older when they smiled? Or younger? Or did it make no difference?

The participants guessed the person to be older when they smiled [left-hand bars in the graph below]. But at the same time the participants were convinced that a smile made someone look you younger [right-hand bars in the graph below].

Smiling makes you look older

Smiling makes you look older

"The idea that smiling makes one look younger can be found throughout popular media and is widely promoted by skin and dental care companies that have a clear financial interest in emphasizing the positive effect of smiling on how youthful one appears," the researchers wrote. "Here, we show that this belief, which is well-rooted in popular culture, is a complete misconception."

"Smiling faces are not perceived as younger than neutral faces; they are perceived as older. Moreover, our results make it clear that the same person can believe that smiling makes one appear younger, but at the same time judge smiling faces as older than neutral faces."

Psychon Bull Rev. 2017 May 8. doi: 10.3758/s13423-017-1306-8. [Epub ahead of print].

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