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The older we get, the more obsessed we become with whether or not we look our age. Getting carded at a bar or liquor store, while once an annoyance, becomes a high compliment as the years after 21 start to stack up. Fiftieth birthday wishes come with the assurance that you don’t look a day over thirty. Microsoft even created a website called “How-Old.net” that uses facial recognition software to try and guess at the age of the person pictured.

In our quest to appear ever younger than we are, it’s common to hear that smiling makes you look younger. But is that really true? Studies created to look into this assertion have disagreed.

Smiling Is Youthful, Says 2016 Study

Researchers in a 2016 study decided to tackle the question of the effect of a smile on perceived age using computer-simulated faces. A model of a male face was adjusted to reflect both different age ranges and different expressions, including a smiling face, a neutral face, and a frowning face. Then, participants were shown the faces and asked to mark them as either “young” or “old.”

The team conducting this study confirmed what our societal expectation predicted: Smiles made the participants more likely to mark the face as “young,” and frowning made the participants more likely to mark the face as “old.” For example, photos that featured a sad face was most likely to be marked “old” is the simulated age was around 44. However, photos that featured a smiling face were most likely to be marked “old” around the simulated age of 53.

Does this mean smiling takes nearly a decade off of your perceived age? Not so fast — a different research team would disagree with that.

Smiling Ages You, Says 2017 Study

A 2017 study expected to find similar results when they showed their participants photographs of people of various ages with different facial expressions and asked them to guess at their ages. But researchers were shocked to find that the results were actually the opposite: The smiling faces were, on average, perceived as being around two years older than those same faces in neutral expressions.

Researchers were surprised, but have their own guesses for why this might be true: Perhaps, the researchers suggested, smiling makes the wrinkles around the eyes and mouth more visible, increasing the perceived age of the smiler.

So which is it? Is the 2016 study more accurate because of its computer simulated faces, or is that disconnect from reality actually handicapping the accuracy of results? Should we smile to look younger, or keep a straight face?

The secret might be in the difference between the two age rating systems. When asked to put a number on the age, people looked for concrete signifiers of age, such as the wrinkles around the eyes that researchers noted. When asked to simply rate a face as either “young” or “old,” people used a different set of criteria, one more related to a person’s spirit. In that case, it certainly seems that smiling may not make you look younger in years, but it makes you look a lot younger at heart.

If you are in the Orlando area and want a smile you can be proud to show off, you need an experienced cosmetic dentist right here in Altamonte Springs. Call (407) 834-6446 or contact us online to learn more or make an appointment.