German researchers may have found a way to look younger without plastic surgery. But you cannot do it alone.

Psychologists at Jena University have a simple suggestion: Surround yourself with older people. Their research shows that when viewing a 30-year-old, we estimate his age to be much younger if we have previously been perceiving faces of older people.

“People are actually quite good at guessing the age of the person next to them,“ said psychologist Dr. Holger Wiese, who leads one of six research projects in the “Person Perception“ study, sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

In their experiment, researchers were able to show that volunteer testers were systematically wrong at estimating other people’s ages after having adapted to the faces of people of a specific age group by looking closely at them. If many faces of elderly people were shown on the computer first, followed by the test face of a middle-aged person, the test candidates estimated this person as substantially younger.

The converse was also found to be true: After studying younger faces the middle-aged test face was estimated as being substantially older.

Professor Dr. Stefan R. Schweinberger, who oversees the project, noted, “These effects occur independently of the viewer’s age and sex.” No one yet knows how long this effect lasts.

When the initial adapted faces and the test faces show people of the same sex, the after-effects of age perception are even stronger. The psychologists have thus theorized that the perception of age and sex in faces is not a completely independent process.

These results may hardly surprise non-experts — but they contradict the views of many experts.

The researchers used the most modern digital image editing techniques and a databank of faces without any makeup and with distracting elements touched up. The first subjects were students, and in the second, still unpublished study, elderly people were asked to give their estimations.

“We are able to change the subjective perception of a face,” Schweinberger concluded.

Wiese added: “The age of the person next to you is one of the most important characteristics for our perception of other people. This leads to exciting crossovers into other areas of scientists who are dealing with the interactions of social groups.“

The Jena psychologists published their findings in the journal Vision Research.

Source: Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena