Contrary To Popular Belief, Smiling Makes You Look Older

Maybe Victoria Beckham is onto something. kudla/Shutterstock

In incredibly important news for those whose mission in life is to capture the perfect selfie, scientists may be able to help you out with this simple instruction. To look younger, don’t smile.

Yes, that seems counter-intuitive, but a new study from Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute in Canada and Israel’s Ben-Gurion University revealed that smiling can make you appear up to two years older than wearing a straight face, while looking surprised makes you look younger.

The results even surprised the researchers. "We associate smiling with positive values and youth," said study co-author Melvyn Goodale, director of the Brain and Mind Institute, in a statement. "Think of all the skin-care and toothpaste companies that sell the same idea every day."

Good point. This does seem to fly in the face of common beliefs that smiling makes you look younger and more attractive, so how did they come to this conclusion?

The researchers, whose study is published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, held two experiments. One involved 40 students who were shown photos of people who were either smiling or wearing a neutral expression.

During the experiment, they were asked to evaluate the age of the smiling and neutral faces. Afterwards, they were asked to rate the average age of the smiling and neutral faces, and what effect smiling had on the perceived age.

Their results showed that the participants perceived the smiling faces to be older than the neutral ones, which surprised both the researchers and, apparently, the participants.

"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," Goodale said. "They were completely blind to the fact they had 'aged' the happy-looking faces. Their perceptions and their beliefs were polar opposites."

A second experiment similarly showed smiling and neutral faces, but this time introduced a surprised-looking face. Again the participants identified the smiling faces as looking older, but this time they identified the neutral faces as being older than the surprised faces.  

The researchers think this could be explained by the fact that smiling shows wrinkles in a face, especially around the eyes, more obviously, while looking surprised stretches the skin and smooths any wrinkles out.

However, the researchers admit that their study was designed to find out if people believe smiling makes you look younger, while simultaneously demonstrating they actually perceive smiling faces to be older, which is a much more interesting result to take away about ourselves.

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

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