Amy Stansbury/The Associated Press
04/02/2013 01:58:13 AM PDT
In a world where the popular cosmetic product has become ubiquitous, it isn't a question that many people stop and take the time to consider. That is, except for Richard Russell.
”There are a lot of ways that cosmetics could be worn,” Russell said. “Why do we have to make the lips redder? We could be using nose stick and ear shadow.”
Russell, a psychology professor at Gettysburg College, has been thinking about these questions for a long time and now he finally thinks that he has some answers.
Along with Aurélie Porcheron and Emmanuelle Mauger of the Chanel Research and Technology Epidermal and Sensory Research and Investigation Center in France, Russell recently finished a yearlong study analyzing the effects of facial contrast on perceptions of age. In the end he was able to scientifically prove why modern-day make-up is so popular -- it makes women look younger.
For his study, Russell and his team took 300 photos of adult Caucasian females and, using Photoshop, manipulated the images so that the contrast between their lips, eyes, and eyebrows were increased when compared to the rest of their faces. He then asked research participants to look at the original image and the distorted image side-by-side and to determine which image displayed the younger woman. Another group of participants were only given one image, and without knowing if it had been distorted or not, were asked to guess the age of the woman
in the photograph.
”Almost all of the subjects picked the pictures with increased contrast as younger,” Russell said.
Russell and the other researchers used this information to surmise that as an age indicator, facial contrast is about one-third as strong as wrinkles. This is pretty significant, Russell said, to think that most people aren't even aware of facial contrast.
Another surprising thing that Russell found is the impact that darkening or lightening the lips, eyes, and eyebrows have on facial appearance as a whole. As researchers, Russell and his colleagues knew that all they did in Photoshop was change the intensity of the lips, eyes and eyebrows, and yet doing so seemed to change the appearance of the entire face.
”The whole face looked subtly older or younger,” Russell said.
For the cosmetic industry, that is exactly the point.
”The point of why cosmetics are worn the way they are is to make the face appear more youthful,” Russell said.
Other studies have found a strong relationship between how female a woman's face looks and attractiveness, he added. Russell took this concept a step further with one of his earlier studies when he discovered that female faces naturally have a greater contrast between eyes, lips and the face than do male faces. Following this line of logic, dark make-up placed on the eyes and lips makes women look younger and more feminine and therefore, more attractive.
”There is some degree of biological underpinning in the way cosmetics are worn,” Russell said.
But for Russell, the facial contrast studies have more implications than just make-up.
”We treat people differently based on whether they are older or younger than us,” Russell said. “This points out a sign of aging that we hadn't been aware of.”
The study is the first that shows that older faces lose the contrast between their skin, eyes and lips, which has real-world consequences in the ways that individuals perceive others, Russell said.
And of course, it finally answers that pesky lipstick question.
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