ARLENE MILLER of Newton, Mass., was aware that her face had changed as she aged. I love children. Nalini Ambady, a psychology professor at Tufts, said, “In 40 milliseconds, people can accurately judge what we are saying with our expression.”
But what if a face conveys thoughts or feelings that aren’t really there? At any age, an expression can send unintended signals. “The face is both a voluntary and an involuntary system,” said Paul Ekman, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, “so we may be wanting to convey a smile or a grin, but involuntarily our face may betray even within a smile itself that we’re actually a little angry or a little sad or a little disgusted.”
If lines, creases, sags or folds that mimic an emotion become fixtures on a face, “we may incorrectly make the presumption that the person is having that emotion all the time,” said Dr. Ekman, the author of “Emotions Revealed,” and the director of a firm that consults on strengthening emotional skills.
“Expressions are contagious,” she said.
Infants quickly begin interpreting and mimicking others’ expressions, Dr. Etcoff said. “Wrinkles etch in around expressions that we’ve used very often,” Dr. Etcoff said, as “ghosts or shadows of expressions past.”
If crow’s-feet linger, they can suggest a smile long after it is gone.
As for Ms. Miller, whose angry expression startled the little boy, she was so concerned that she sought out cosmetic treatment to help soften her look. After injections of Botox to smooth her forehead, and Restylane, which plumped her smile lines, Ms. Miller said she feels more confident.