Age and gender differences in facial attractiveness, but not emotion resemblance, contribute to age and gender stereotypes

Rocco Palumbo, Reginald B. Adams, Ursula Hess, Robert E. Kleck, Leslie Zebrowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Considerable research has shown effects of facial appearance on trait impressions and group stereotypes. We extended those findings in two studies that investigated the contribution of resemblance to emotion expressions and attractiveness to younger adults (YA) and older adults (OA) age and gender stereotypes on the dimensions of warmth and competence. Using connectionist modeling of facial metrics of 240 neutral younger and older faces, Study 1 found that, neutral expression older faces or female faces showed greater structural resemblance to happy expressions and less resemblance to angry expressions than did younger or male faces, respectively. In addition, neutral female faces showed greater resemblance to surprise expressions. In Study 2, YA and OA rated the faces of Study 1 for attractiveness and for 4 traits that we aggregated on the dimensions of competence (competent, healthy) and warmth (trustworthy, not shrewd). We found that YA, but not OA, age stereotypes replicated previous research showing higher perceived warmth and lower perceived competence in older adults. In addition, previously documented gender stereotypes were moderated by face age for both YA and OA. The greater attractiveness of younger than older faces and female than male faces influenced age and gender stereotypes, including these deviations from prior research findings using category labels rather than faces. On the other hand, face age and face sex differences in emotion resemblance did not influence age or gender stereotypes, contrary to prediction. Our results provide a caveat to conclusions about age and gender stereotypes derived from responses to category labels, and they reveal the importance of assessing stereotypes with a methodology that is sensitive to influences of group differences in appearance that can exacerbate or mitigate stereotypes in more ecologically valid contexts. Although the gender differences in attractiveness in the present study may not have generalizability, the age differences likely do, and the fact that they can weaken the attribution of greater warmth and strengthen the attribution of lower competence to older than younger individuals has important practical implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1704
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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