Decreasing the Age of the Older Face: Are certain features or color dimensions more important than others for age perception?
Contrast manipulated versions of a face. The left image shows a face with facial contrast increased and the right image shows the same face with facial contrast decreased.
Age is a fundamental determinant of social structure and interactions. Age determines rank, rights, and responsibilities. People of different ages afford different kinds of social interactions and age is a primary dimension of social cognition and behavior. But it is not only actual or chronological age that predicts a person’s health, ability, and treatment by others. The mere appearance of age, separate from actual age, predicts important aspects of health and well-being.
Looking older or younger than one’s age is associated with health and environmental factors such as body mass index (BMI), depression, marital status, and social class. Indeed, perceived facial age is a clinically useful biomarker of aging, and looking older than one’s age is a sign of poor health and mortality. Though poor health surely contributes to appearing old for one’s age, there is evidence to suggest that appearance may also cause diminished health and psychological well-being, because of reduced social contact and social touching that results from having skin that no one “loves to touch”, including the possessor. A person who appears older is perceived as more autonomous and dominant, which discourages touching. Though the benefits of touch increase with age, the opportunities to be touched decrease significantly.
Maintaining a youthful appearance is of great importance for many people, perhaps because of the relationships between the appearance of age and health, and between the appearance of age and beauty. Many people are concerned with reducing the visual signs of aging, and this supports the existence of the multi-billion dollar cosmetic and cosmetic surgery industries.
The appearance of age is closely related to the physical changes that occur with the aging process. After the cessation of growth at approximately 20 years of age, face shape continues to change, particularly in late adulthood. Facial skin undergoes dramatic changes with age, including wrinkling and sagging, increases of pigmented irregularities, and skin color changes such as decreased homogeneity of skin reflectance.
The internal features of the face are also relevant to the perception of age. With photographs of the same individual obtained at two different ages, George and Hole substituted features between the photographs. Transplanting older features into a younger face increased age estimates by approximately 40%, the opposite decreased the age of the older face by approximately 33%. Both internal feature size and shape influence age perception. Large and round eyes in real faces as well as shorter noses decreased the estimated age of the person. Lip height and border definition decrease with age and are visual cues for age perception .
The luminance contrast between the eyes and the surrounding skin and the lips and the surrounding skin has been termed ‘facial contrast’. Female faces have greater facial contrast than male faces, and facial contrast plays an important role in sex classification and the perception of masculinity and femininity and also attractiveness. However, it is not known whether facial contrast changes with age or plays a role in age perception. Inspection of averaged faces of older and younger adults led us to hypothesize that facial contrast decreases with age and is related to perceived facial age.
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