May 9, 2017 7:33 pm
Updated: May 9, 2017 7:39 pm

Western study finds fault in common belief that smiling makes you appear younger

In the second experiment of the study, students were shown images of men and women who were either smiling, were neutral, or had a surprised face.

Western University
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A new study from Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute is casting doubt on a commonly held belief that smiling makes you appear younger.

The study, titled “The effects of smiling on perceived age defy belief,” was co-authored by Melvyn Goodale, director of the Brain and Mind Institute, and Tzvi Ganel of Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, and was recently published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

Two experiments were held for the study.

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In the first, 40 Ben-Gurion students were shown a set of images of men and women who were either smiling or had a neutral expression. During the experiment, they were asked to evaluate the age of the smiling or neutral faces.

Afterward, participants were asked to rate the average age of the neutral and smiling faces they had evaluated, and were also asked what effect smiling had on one’s perceived age.

The experiment found participants perceived smiling faces to be older than neutral faces, contradicting a common belief that smiling makes people appear younger, the study says. The study also found that retrospectively, participants recalled the smiling faces as looking younger.

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In a similar second experiment, 42 students were shown images of men and women who were either smiling, were neutral, or had a surprised face.

“Smiling faces were again perceived as older than neutral faces, which were in turn, perceived as older than surprised faces,” the study said.

“Again, retrospective evaluations were consistent with the belief that smiling makes people look younger. The findings show that this belief, well-rooted in popular media, is a complete misconception.”

“The striking thing was that when we asked participants afterwards about their perceptions, they erroneously recalled that they had identified smiling faces as the youngest ones,” said Goodale, the study’s co-author, in a statement. “They were completely blind to the fact they had ‘aged’ the happy-looking faces.”

The study proposes that smiling faces may appear older as hard-to-ignore wrinkles form around the mouth when someone smiles. Looking surprised, on the other hand, stretches the wrinkles.

According to the authors, the study was designed to see if the same individual could simultaneously believe that smiling made one look younger, while also perceiving smiling faces to be older than neutral ones.

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but the study shows that people can sincerely believe one thing, and then behave in a completely different way,” said Goodale.

The full study can be found here.

— With files from Matthew Trevithick

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