FaceApp's old age filter.
FaceApp
  • FaceApp, a controversial AI-powered photo editing app, can show you what you look like as an elderly person.
  • The app might have psychological effects - both good and bad - for the user, including perpetuating the downsides of being old.
  • On the other hand, the app might help adults come to terms with their eventual old age.
  • Business Insider spoke to a social-personality psychologist about the psychological effects of becoming an elderly person on FaceApp.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

If you've ever wanted to find out how you'll look in, say, 40 years, you can do it on a controversial app that's going viral, FaceApp.

FaceApp is an AI-powered photo editing app that can make you look like an elderly person, a kid, or it can even swap your gender (but beware, the Russian app apparently collects your data, keeping your photos for ads and other purposes).

Despite being released in 2017, the app is gaining some major social media attention, with celebrities like Gordon Ramsay, Drake, and the Jonas Brothers posting pictures of themselves as senior citizens. It may seem like a fun pastime, but the app might have potential psychological effects, both good and bad.

To learn about these effects, Business Insider spoke with William Chopik, social-personality psychologist and professor at Michigan State University, who said that the filter may be good for coming to terms with old age, but, like other social media, it might appeal to users' vanity.

"People are naturally drawn to know more about themselves," Chopik told Business Insider. "Life is really uncertain, so any type of feedback that helps us predict what the future is like is useful."

Despite the fact that the filter makes users look old, it could have the opposite effect of making them poke fun at the idea of aging. "So, in a way, psychologically, it might be a tongue-in-cheek type of demonstration," said Chopik, who imagined what a user might say: "'Old people exist and everyone becomes old someday, but look at me now and how different I look.' It stresses our youth in the here and now."

The old age filter may perpetuate the idea that being old is undesirable, Chopik said, but it may have positive effects as well. "In another way, it helps normalise the fact that everyone ages which might ultimately reduce the stigma of older adults. It's a little tricky and the jury isn't out yet."

But regardless of how users feel about aging, Chopik is hopeful that their actual golden years will be better than they imagine. "FaceApp specifically shows people what they'll look like when they're older," he said. "It doesn't show them how they'll feel about themselves and other people - research suggests that all those things get better."

Some of that research includes a 2013 study that might keep us from discounting the future. In the study, college students were shown middle-aged versions of themselves and then asked to play a trivia game. They were also given the opportunity to cheat at that game. The students who were shown what they'd look like 20 years later were 74% less likely to cheat, which indicates that we're less likely to make bad decisions when we have a clearer understanding that we're aging.

I wanted a clearer understanding myself, so I tried FaceApp (actually a friend uploaded my picture against my will) and the result was frightening:

The author's face with and without the app filter.
Ivan De Luce/Business Insider

My 23-year-old face was given wrinkles no 23-year-old should have. The level of detail made the image almost convincing, even to me. I suddenly had crow's feet, slightly whiter hair, a redder face, thinner lips and eyebrows, sagging earlobes, and wrinkles galore. My friend even told me I looked like a witch. Judging by the face I happened to be making, I wouldn't disagree.

I, for one, didn't enjoy seeing my face in old age. It looked like a morbid parody of myself, and was frankly unnerving. I'd rather wait to find out how I look.

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