According to a new study published in the Applied Cognitive Psychology, facemasks and makeup result in an overestimation of young women’s age, compared to neutral faces. However, the combination of these two is not additive.
There is a discrepancy between the perceived age of men and women. This could be partly explained by cosmetics, given women are more likely than men to use makeup to alter physical appearances to create their desired effect. Cosmetics can affect perceptions of age by altering facial features that cue for age. For example, facial contrast (i.e., colour differences/luminance of skin and between facial features) changes with age, and faces with greater contrast are perceived to be younger. Thus, makeup that enhances facial contrast would “result in younger looking faces.” However, while 40- and 50-year-old women appear 1.5 years younger with full makeup, 20-year-old women appear 1.4 years older.
It could be the case that obscuring the central features of a face – the eyes, nose, and mouth – could likewise influence age estimations. A recent eye-tracking study found that this central triangle was important for age estimation.
In this work, Hannah Davis and Janice Attard-Johnson examined the combined effect of makeup and facemasks on age estimation accuracy.
Sixty-eight participants were recruited through social media. Thirty-three women volunteered for the construction of stimuli, and took four passport-style photos, with: no makeup and no mask, makeup and a mask, makeup and no mask, and no makeup and mask. Volunteers wore foundation, eyeshadow and mascara, and some applied eyeliner and eyebrow definition. A total of 28 photograph sets (i.e., 112 images) met the inclusion criteria; 22 sets included women between ages 18-21 and 6 included women between ages 48-73. Faces of older women were included to prevent participants from detecting a pattern of younger adults and responding systematically, but were not included in the analyses. Of the included faces, all but three were Caucasian.
The researchers created four versions of the experiment, with each featuring the identity of a given person one time. Participants were presented with photos of 28 different women; however, they responded to 7 trials from each condition. Faces were displayed for 2 seconds, and participants were prompted to enter a two-digit age estimate on a keyboard.
Davis and Attard-Johnson found that across all conditions, there was “a range of bias from an underestimation of 2.3 years and an overestimation of up to 15 years.” Only 12% of participants were accurate within 1 year of the featured woman’s actual age. The authors also found “a greater tendency to overestimate the ages of faces wearing a facemask, makeup or both.” Ages of faces without a mask and without makeup elicited more accurate age estimates. While both facemasks and makeup influenced age estimates, the combination of the two was not additive.
A limitation of this research is that it only focused on female faces; it could be the case that the use of facemasks and makeup affects age estimations of men and women differently. As well, the study recruited women ages 18-21 for stimuli generation, and thus, the findings may not generalize to other age groups.
The study, “Your ID, please? The effect of facemasks and makeup on perceptions of age of young adult female faces”, was authored by Hannah Davis and Janice Attard-Johnson.