The photo on the right of researcher Julio Martinez-Trujillo includes wrinkles around the eyes -- a feature called the Duchenne marker that researchers have found to make emotions appear more sincere. (Photo courtesy of Western University)

Eye Wrinkles Convey Sincerity, According To Western Researchers

Do you hate those wrinkles around your eyes? A new study by Western University researchers shows that maybe you shouldn’t.

The study, conducted in collaboration with investigators at the University of Miami, asserts that the human brain is pre-wired to perceive wrinkles around the eyes as conveying more intense and more sincere emotions.

“Since Darwin, scientists have wondered if there is a language of facial expression. This research suggests one key to this language is constriction of the eyes,” said Daniel Messinger, PhD, professor in the department of psychology at the University of Miami.

Researchers showed study participants photos of expressions with and without the eye-wrinkle feature, which is known as the Duchenne marker, to determine which expressions the brain perceives as more important. This method of showing the photos side-by-side is called “visual rivalry”.

“The expressions involving the Duchenne marker were always dominant. So if the emotion is more intense, your brain actually prefers to bring it into perceptual awareness for [a] longer time,” said Dr. Julio Martinez-Trujillo, a professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and the principal investigator on the study, which was recently published in the journal Emotion.

Researchers asked participants to rate the expressions on a scale for intensity and sincerity and found photos of people with the Duchenne marker who emoting sadness or those who were smiling were perceived as being more sincere and more intense.

Martinez-Trujillo said the “visual rivalry” method is “like a window into the unconscious and demonstrates what our brains involuntarily see as more relevant or important.”

“When you have social interactions you need to perceive whether a person is sincere or not,” said Martinez-Trujillo. “So my interest now is, what will be the results if we do this same test with people with autism spectrum disorder. They often have trouble reading out emotions from other people, so we wonder if that might have to do with their ability to read this marker for sincerity.”