The study enlisted the help of 154 young, middle-aged and older adult study participants to estimate the ages of 171 faces of young, middle-aged and older adults posing with various facial expressions. Study participants examined a total of 2,053 photographs. The expressions presented embodied anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and neutrality.
The results showed that facial expressions presented a significant impact on the accuracy of age estimates across all study groups. While neutral facial expressions resulted in the most accurate age estimates, study participants underestimated the ages of smiling facial expressions by nearly two years on average.
Researchers hypothesize that happy facial expressions are particularly deceptive because smiling creates temporary facial wrinkles around the face and the mouth, making it difficult for individuals to differentiate between real or transient facial wrinkles.
The results of this study appear particularly relevant with the rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Linkedin, Flickr and others which share photos, often with very minimal background information and may contribute to age bias.
“Although age estimates can often be based on multiple cues, there are many situations in which a picture of a person’s face is the only information immediately available,” researcher Manuel C. Voelkle of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, and colleagues comment.
Additionally, researchers noticed that the age of study subjects also played a role in age estimates. Older and younger adults were most accurate when assessing the ages of individuals in their own age group.
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