Facial Contrast Declines with Age but Remains Sexually Dimorphic Throughout Adulthood

Abstract

Facial contrast – the difference in coloration between facial features and the surrounding skin – is an important cue for several aspects of face perception, including the perception of age and sex. However, previous work showing age declines in facial contrast has investigated only female faces, and studies demonstrating sex differences in facial contrast have only used young adult faces as stimuli. In the present work we examined whether age related declines in facial contrast are similar in both female and male faces, and whether sex differences in facial contrast are similar across the adult lifespan. In a sample of 151 male and female faces, drawn from three age groups (young adult, middle-aged, older adult), we analyzed contrast around three facial features: eyebrows, eyes, and lips, in each of the three channels of CIEL*a*b* color space. We replicated the finding that feature contrasts decline with age in female faces, and found similar declines with age in facial contrast in male faces. We also found that the sex differences in luminance contrast around the facial features were present throughout the adult life span. Our findings demonstrate that age differences in facial contrast generalize to both sexes, and that sex differences in facial contrast generalize to all adult ages, indicating the general relevance of facial contrast cues. These findings also have implications for the understanding of facial beauty and of beautification practices such as makeup.

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Correspondence to Richard Russell.

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Richard Russell receives research grants from Chanel PB, a cosmetics company.

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Russell, R., Kramer, S.S. & Jones, A.L. Facial Contrast Declines with Age but Remains Sexually Dimorphic Throughout Adulthood. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 3, 293–303 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-017-0068-x

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Keywords

  • Face perception
  • Facial contrast
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Age