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Smiling Makes You Look Younger? Not According to a New Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Western University of Canada Study

May. 11, 2017

While conventional wisdom is that smiling makes you appear younger, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Western University in Canada have scientifically proven otherwise. 

According to the findings, published in the May 8th edition of Psyc​honomic Bulletin and Review, the researchers show for the first time that people flashing those pearly whites are perceived as older than those with a deadpan or surprised expression. 

“Popular media promotes the idea that smiling makes you look younger,” says Prof. Tzvi Ganel, head of the Laborat​ory for Visual Perception and Action in BGU’s Departmen​t of Psychology. “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 Prof. 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.

Above: Diagrams from article