Western society’s obsession with youth and wrinkle-free skin knows no bounds. Women are increasingly having botox in their twenties as a “preventative measure” and many of us consider SPF a non-negotiable part of our skincare routine, largely due to its wrinkle-preventing power. Heck, these days even anti-ageing gin is a thing.
And now? Research suggests there’s another way to make yourself look younger. Simply stop smiling. That’s right – refrain from showing any sign of joy or positive emotion on your face because, apparently, merely grinning in a photo is enough to make you look years older than if you carry a vacant expression.
In the study, published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review Journal, 40 participants were shown a series of images of the same people either smiling, looking shocked or expressionless. They then had to rate how old they believed the person in each image to be.
Surprisingly, given the association between happiness and youthfulness peddled constantly by advertisers and the media, participants identified the smiling faces as the oldest by two years and the surprised faces as the youngest. (Past research has directly contradicted this finding, however.)
“We associate smiling with positive values and youth,” said Melvyn Goodale, director of the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University, who co-authored the study, and the link is used by skincare and toothpaste companies to sell us products every day, he added.
“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."
The reason smiling people could be perceived as older, the research suggested, is likely down to the wrinkles that smiling causes to form around the eyes. Meanwhile, wearing a surprised expression can smooth the face.
The question is, what's more important: proudly displaying your positive emotions and enjoying life, or having complete strangers believe you're a few years younger than you are? We know which we'd choose.