We all know that lines and wrinkles on the face can make us appear angry, tired, or cranky… even when we’re in a good mood. But can wrinkles make it difficult for others to tell when we are happy or sad? A new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has revealed that wrinkles can interfere with how younger people perceive the emotions of older people. On the other hand, older folks are better able to decipher the emotions behind wrinkles.
The study involved 65 young college students who were asked to view computer-generated faces of three men and three women. Some of the faces were young (19–21), while others were old (76–83). The faces were programmed to display neutral, happy, sad, and angry expressions. The participants were then asked to rate the expressions on the faces on a 1–7 scale.
The researchers found that the students were most accurate in recognizing angry expressions. However, they were rather inaccurate in judging sadness in the older faces. As well, happy older faces were perceived as showing less overall emotion than the younger faces.
The wrinkles on older faces can create confusing signals, so that facial expressions are perceived differently and less clearly. That’s why so many people choose to have procedures like brow lift, facelift, and skin resurfacing. These treatments remove the illusion of tiredness or grumpiness so that your real self can shine through.
According to the study’s lead author Dr. Ursula Hess, “the anger [in older faces] is seen as mixed with other emotions. Clearly it makes a difference whether you think someone is just angry or someone is both angry and sad.”
Interestingly, Hess says that the results would have been different if the participants had been older. As we age, we get more experience in recognizing the emotions in older faces. Other non-verbal cues, like posture, tone, and body language, are also useful to those who have learned to read them.