It is a common belief that smiling makes people appear younger. Empirical findings, however, suggest that smiling faces are actually perceived as older than neutral faces. Here we show that these two apparently contradictory phenomena can co-exist in the same person. In the first experiment, participants were first asked to estimate the ages of a series of smiling or neutral faces. After that, they were asked to estimate the average age of the set of neutral and smiling faces they had just evaluated. Finally, they were asked what effect smiling has on one’s perceived age. In the experimental session, smiling faces were perceived as older than neutral faces. Nevertheless, after the experiment, consistent with their retrospective evaluations, participants recalled smiling faces as being younger than the neutral faces. Experiment 2 replicated and extended these results to a set of emotional expressions that also included surprised faces. Smiling faces were again perceived as older than neutral faces, which were in turn perceived as older than surprised faces. Again, retrospective evaluations were consistent with the belief that smiling makes people look younger. The findings show that this belief, well-rooted in popular media, is a complete misconception.
Face perception Common belief Age evaluations Facial expression