A neutral facial expression makes you look two years younger than if you smile, a new study finds.
However, a surprised expression can make you look even younger, the researchers also found.
The findings with regard to smiling are the total opposite of what people expect.
Dr Melvyn Goodale, a study author, said:
“We associate smiling with positive values and youth.
Think of all the skin-care and toothpaste companies that sell the same idea every day.”
Surprisingly, even after rating smiling people as older, people are not aware that smiling makes them look older.
Dr Goodale said:
“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.
They were completely blind to the fact they had ‘aged’ the happy-looking faces.
Their perceptions and their beliefs were polar opposites.”
In other words, despite rating smiling people as looking older, they thought they had done the opposite!
People look older when they smile because of the wrinkles that form around the eyes during a genuine smile.
Surprise, though, in which the eyebrows pull upwards, smooths away the wrinkles.
Dr Goodale said:
“It may seem counter-intuitive, but the study shows that people can sincerely believe one thing and then behave in a completely different way.”
Mona Lisa smile
For those that really must convey positive emotion in photos, my advice is to go for the Mona Lisa smile.
Try to think happy thoughts without letting the muscles in the face move too much.
Previous research on da Vinci’s famous portrait — the ‘Mona Lisa’ — has found that people almost invariably see a happy face, even when the expression is neutral or a bit sad (Liaci et al., 2017).
So, let the viewer do the work to put a smile on your face and keep those two extra two years of youth!
The study was published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Ganel & Goodale, 2017).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Detail from ‘The Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci