Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 139–151 | Cite as

Older Adults’ Trait Impressions of Faces Are Sensitive to Subtle Resemblance to Emotions

  • Robert G. FranklinJr.
  • Leslie A. Zebrowitz
Original Paper


Younger adults (YA) attribute emotion-related traits to people whose neutral facial structure resembles an emotion (emotion overgeneralization). The fact that older adults (OA) show deficits in accurately labeling basic emotions suggests that they may be relatively insensitive to variations in the emotion resemblance of neutral expression faces that underlie emotion overgeneralization effects. On the other hand, the fact that OA, like YA, show a ‘pop-out’ effect for anger, more quickly locating an angry than a happy face in a neutral array, suggests that both age groups may be equally sensitive to emotion resemblance. We used computer modeling to assess the degree to which neutral faces objectively resembled emotions and assessed whether that resemblance predicted trait impressions. We found that both OA and YA showed anger and surprise overgeneralization in ratings of danger and naiveté, respectively, with no significant differences in the strength of the effects for the two age groups. These findings suggest that well-documented OA deficits on emotion recognition tasks may be more due to processing demands than to an insensitivity to the social affordances of emotion expressions.


Aging Face perception Emotion resemblance Overgeneralization Trait impressions 



This research was supported by NIH grant AG38375 to L. A. Zebrowitz. The authors would like to thank Jasmine Boshyan and Bosiljka Milosavljevic for their help in data collection and Derek Isaacowitz for his helpful comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBrandeis UniversityWalthamUSA

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