Perceived age is a psychosocial factor that can influence both with whom and how we choose to interact socially. Though intuition tells us that a smile makes us look younger, surprisingly little empirical evidence exists to explain how age-irrelevant emotional expressions bias the subjective decision threshold for age. We examined the role that emotional expression plays in the process of judging one's age from a face. College-aged participants were asked to sort the emotional and neutral expressions of male facial stimuli that had been morphed across eight age levels into categories of either "young" or "old." Our results indicated that faces at the lower age levels were more likely to be categorized as old when they showed a sad facial expression compared to neutral expressions. Mirroring that, happy faces were more often judged as young at higher age levels than neutral faces. Our findings suggest that emotion interacts with age perception such that happy expression increases the threshold for an old decision, while sad expression decreases the threshold for an old decision in a young adult sample.
Hass, N. C., Weston, T. D., & Lim, S. L. (2016). Be happy not sad for your youth: The effect of emotional expression on age perception. PLoS ONE, 11(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152093