Successful aging is a crucial public health challenge. Because accurate trait impressions from faces provide a significant guide to adaptive social interactions, ameliorating any age-related declines in accuracy is integral to addressing that challenge, and this is the long range goal of the proposed research. Accurate assessments of traits like health, hostility, honesty, and competence are important for avoiding contagion and physical harm and seeking appropriate counsel across the lifespan. Yet, there is a dearth of research investigating the accuracy of older adults'(OA) impressions of these traits despite reason to expect age-related decrements. Young adults'(YA) trait impressions are influenced by overgeneralized responses to facial qualities that provide useful information about social interaction possibilities. More specifically, YA tend to generalize their adaptive responses to facial qualities that mark babies, low fitness, or emotion expressions to people whose facial structure merely resembles babies (babyface overgeneralization), low fitness (anomalous face overgeneralization) or an emotion expression (emotion face overgeneralization). Moreover, generalizing from negative facial qualities, including resemblance to an angry face or an anomalous face, fosters accurate trait impressions, whereas generalizing from positive facial qualities, such as high attractiveness or resemblance to a happy face or a baby's face does not. A separate body of research reveals that OA are worse than YA at recognizing negative emotion expressions, including anger, and less responsive than YA to other negatively valenced stimuli, whereas there is little age difference in recognition of happy expressions or response to positively valenced stimuli. The utility of negatively valenced facial cues for achieving accurate impressions coupled with evidence that OA may be less sensitive to such cues motivates the specific aims of the proposed research. Nine studies use behavioral, neural, and psychopharmacological methods to determine whether: 1) OA and YA show more agreement in trait impressions of faces that vary in positivity (medium to positively valenced cues) than those that vary in negativity (medium to negatively valenced cues);2) OA show less accurate trait impressions than YA;and whether age differences in trait impressions from faces are influenced by 3) decreased dopamine function in OA;4) greater emotion regulation in OA;5) more selective processing of personally relevant faces in OA;and 6) more visual dedifferentiation in OA. By integrating research on trait impressions from faces in YA with research on age-related changes in neural function, motivation, and information processing to achieve these specific aims, the proposed research will contribute to understanding when and why impressions change with age as well as what factors contribute to accurate trait impressions at any age. The findings will advance the fields of aging as well as social affective neuroscience, with implications for the development of interventions to reduce age-related vulnerabilities to maladaptive social interactions that can have negative physical, financial, or psychological repercussions.

Public Health Relevance

Successful aging is a crucial public health challenge. Because accurate trait impressions from faces provide a significant guide to adaptive social interactions, understanding age-related changes in this process is integral to addressing that challenge. This research fills a void in the literature, assessing age differences as well as neural, motivational, and perceptual explanatory mechanisms, thereby advancing the fields of aging and neuroscience, with implications for interventions to reduce older adults'vulnerability to maladaptive social interactions.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Brandeis University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Zebrowitz, Leslie A; Ward, Noreen; Boshyan, Jasmine et al. (2017) Older adults' neural activation in the reward circuit is sensitive to face trustworthiness. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci :
Zebrowitz, Leslie A (2017) First Impressions From Faces. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 26:237-242
Zebrowitz, Leslie A; Boshyan, Jasmine; Ward, Noreen et al. (2017) The Older Adult Positivity Effect in Evaluations of Trustworthiness: Emotion Regulation or Cognitive Capacity? PLoS One 12:e0169823
Ng, Stacey Y; Zebrowitz, Leslie A; Franklin Jr, Robert G (2016) Age Differences in the Differentiation of Trait Impressions From Faces. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 71:220-9
Franklin Jr, Robert G; Zebrowitz, Leslie A (2016) The influence of political candidates' facial appearance on older and younger adults' voting choices and actual electoral success. Cogent Psychol 3:
Zebrowitz, Leslie; Ward, Noreen; Boshyan, Jasmine et al. (2016) Dedifferentiated face processing in older adults is linked to lower resting state metabolic activity in fusiform face area. Brain Res 1644:22-31
Franklin Jr, Robert G; Zebrowitz, Leslie A (2016) Aging-Related Changes in Decoding Negative Complex Mental States from Faces. Exp Aging Res 42:471-478
Zebrowitz, Leslie A; Franklin Jr, Robert G; Palumbo, Rocco (2015) Ailing voters advance attractive congressional candidates. Evol Psychol 13:16-28
Zebrowitz, Leslie A; Franklin Jr, Robert G; Boshyan, Jasmine (2015) Face Shape and Behavior: Implications of Similarities in Infants and Adults. Pers Individ Dif 86:312-317
Zebrowitz, Leslie A; Franklin Jr, Robert G; Boshyan, Jasmine et al. (2014) Older and younger adults' accuracy in discerning health and competence in older and younger faces. Psychol Aging 29:454-68

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