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Old People Aren’t Hiding Their Emotions, You Just Can’t Read Them Through Their Wrinkles

Wrinkles make it difficult for younger people to read the facial expressions of those older than them

Can you tell what this man is feeling? (Frisno)

If you find old people inscrutable, the issue might not be their lack of facial expressions, but rather your inability to read them. A new study suggests that young people have a hard time reading the emotions of wrinkled faces.

The study asked people to view faces, some with wrinkles and some without, each of which displayed a facial expression. Body Odd, at NBC, explains what happened:

Young people were were most accurate in recognizing an angry expression and least accurate in judging sadness in old faces. They perceived happy faces in older people as showing less overall emotion than a younger person.

The study found that a facial expression, such as pure anger, on an older face is perceived differently — and less clearly — than the very same expression displayed on a younger person.

But why do wrinkles make such a big difference? No one’s really sure. It could be that people are looking for lines on the face to read anger versus sadness, and that wrinkles hide those lines. Or it could be something else entirely.

Ursula Hess, the lead author on the study, also explained to NBC why hidden emotions aren’t trivial. “We may make mistakes when judging the emotions of the elderly,” Hess told them. “This may result in less harmonious interactions.”

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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