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Eyes Offer Clues to Age and Alertness

Study Shows Young People Make Judgments on Age by Looking Into Elders' Eyes
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 6, 2009 -- The eyes have it when it comes to showing age, a new study suggests.

Researchers say younger people seem to make judgments about the age and alertness of older folks by looking into and around their eyes. The study is published in the February issue of Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Forty-seven young adults took part in the study, each looking at the faces of older people on a computer monitor equipped with a camera that looked back at them with an eye-tracking device. It analyzed the direction and duration of the participants' gazes.

Huy Tu Nguyen, MD, from the Harvard department of ophthalmology and colleagues found that in rating age, the younger folks most often looked at the eye region, followed by the forehead and the nose region.

The eye region also was the most frequently selected in rating fatigue, followed by the forehead, and the nose region.

In the eye region, study participants looked at the brows and lower lids the most when asked to rate both fatigue and age.

The researchers say the young people looked at static, two-dimensional images of the older folks, rather than video or live images, and thus the study could not determine how much attention the mouths of the older people might have attracted as age and fatigue markers.

The researchers also say findings may be different with older people as participants.

The participants of this study were age 21 on average. In the first part of the study, the participants were presented with a digital image of an older adult's face on a monitor for five seconds at a time before having to guess the age of the person in the picture. The same 48 facial images were shown again for five seconds each time but in a different order for the fatigue assessment.

The researchers conclude that the results "demonstrate that the eye region is most important in making fatigue and age judgments [raising] the possibility that aesthetic surgery to the eye region may be an efficient, effective intervention to enhance an individual's attractiveness by possibly reducing how old or tired one appears."

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