New Ben-Gurion University study: You can stop with the smiles—they don't make you look younger

According to a new study conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University, people flashing those pearly whites are perceived as older than those with a deadpan or surprised expression.
Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90

Whether it’s at work or when socializing, most of us want to look youthful and full of energy. We’ve been told that smiling makes you look younger. Advice: Don’t believe everything you read. New research from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) suggests the opposite - that smiling actually makes you look older! 

According to these fascinating findings, published in the May 8 edition of Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 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,” notes Professor Tzvi Ganel, head of the Laboratory for Visual Perception and Action in BGU’s Department of Psychology. “Look at all of the smiling faces in skincare and dental ads. How many of us post smiling faces on social media?”

It wouldn’t be the first time that the media was wrong about science. To test this popular theory, researchers performed a series of experiments intended to assess 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. Surprisingly enough, the participants ranked the smiling faces as the oldest, followed by the neutral expressions and the surprised expressions as the youngest.  Who would have believed that?

Photo Credit: Dudu Greenspan/Flash 90

However, the results of the survey weren’t simple. When asked to recall their reactions after the experiment, study participants mistakenly remembered identifying smiling faces as being younger than neutral ones. “Ironically, the researchers discovered that the same person can believe that smiling makes you appear younger while at the same time judge smiling faces older than neutral ones,” Ganel added.

In fact, 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.

So, there you have it. Sadly, putting on a smiley face might not make you look younger. Take that, popular media.

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