Something I noticed with my kids is that they were neutral or even fine with a strange old person talking to them when they were babies and toddlers — but only if that person wasn’t too old. Which is weird, right? Why was a sweet old lady fine, but a sweet old-old lady caused anxiety and tears?
A new study may provide some clues and it has to do with how wrinkly an old person’s face is.
Young people — and when I say young, actually, up to early adult-aged — are really bad at figuring out the emotions of someone with a really wrinkly face.
The study found that things like wrinkles and folds in skin get interpreted as facial expressions — exaggerated frowns or angry eyes. Older people apparently don’t misinterpret the wrinkles as much. The researchers presume this is because they have more experience reading the emotions of their fellow saggy-skinned.
The study, published in the online Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, worked like this, according to MSNBC:
… [R]esearchers asked 65 college students to view computer-generated black and white faces. They viewed faces of three men and three women who were young (ages 19 to 21) or old (ages 76 to 83) displaying one of four facial expressions: neutral, happy, sad, or angry.
Participants were asked to rate the emotional expression on the person’s face on a scale from 1 for “not at all intense” to 7 for “very intense.”
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.
Even in a neutral face, study participants thought more emotion was being expressed in the older face than the younger one.
So maybe when an old granny stuck her face in my kids’ faces, they thought she was going to shout invective, rather than tickle them under the chin. Damn wrinkles!
Do your kids seem to fear old people? Do you think wrinkles might be the reason?