Study Shows Baby Boomer Wrinkles Get in Way of Emotions

Botox shots for all, or maybe an eyelid nip and a roll tuck.  A new study reveals that wrinkles affect the perception of emotions, particularly the perceptions of Gen X or Gen Y reading the facial expressions of the Baby Boomer generation.

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery notes that the inaccurate interpretation of one’s emotions may be yet another reason why people are trying to rid signs of aging through plastic surgery and injectable procedures.

NBC News notes that while most people worry about wrinkles for aesthetic reasons, the study may prove that looking older isn’t the only drawback to wrinkles. If emotions on an older generation face have reduced signal clarity, then those people’s expressions may have less impact on inferences made regarding their intentions – which means that life experiences aside, the elderly may have trouble being clearly understood in everyday interactions.

“We make mistakes when judging the emotions of the elderly,” said Dr. Ursula Hess, a professor of psychology at Humboldt-University in Berlin and the study’s lead author. “This may result in less harmonious interactions.”

The study, published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, revealed results when 65 college students were asked to rate the intensity of facial expressions for neutral, happy, sad or angry on male and female computer-generated, black and white faces. The faces were either young (ages 19-21) or old (ages 76-83).

According to the researchers, the college students more easily rated the intensity of the younger faces. In fact, the students were most likely to recognize an angry expression and least likely to judge sadness is elderly faces.

However, “in the case of the older expresser, the anger is seen as mixed with other emotions,” said Hess. “Clearly it makes a difference whether you think someone is just angry or someone is both angry and sad.”

In neutral expressions, the students actually perceived more emotion in an older face than a younger face. This is likely because younger people are inferring facial expression and emotions into what are simply age-related changes, wrinkles and folds.

The same frown lines and worry lines that happen naturally with aging are cues that younger people temporarily display when they look upset, unhappy or unfriendly. In other words, younger people do not account for the aging process when interpreting these marks and see them simply as emotion.

Hess noted that the age of the study observers was a notable factor in the results. If the observers, rather than college students, were closer in age to the older faces then their experience recognizing older faces would have lessened the effects of a less clear emotional signal due to wrinkles.

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