By Nina Friedman
For decades, fair- and festival-goers around the country have volunteered to step right up and have a carnival busker guess their age. Now, guessing someone’s age through citizen science can contribute to research in the social and computer sciences and medicine, too.
Everyday scientists and medical professionals are creating lifespan increasing technologies. Researchers across the globe are bettering our health so quickly that the average lifespan is increasing by six hours a day. If you want to contribute to that research, simply go to Ageguess.org and begin playing the game.
In 2011, Assistant Director of Research, Dusan Misevic and Associate Professor of Biodemography, Ulrich Steiner launched AgeGuess as a way to involve the broader public in aging research. With the help of a team of interns, they created a web-based game to answer questions about how aging relates to social science, medicine and computer science.
A user begins playing AgeGuess by uploading a past headshot and their corresponding age at the time. They then record their gender, race, and current age. The user then clicks through headshots that others have uploaded and guesses *their* ages. With every guess, scientists find out more about age interpretation. Is it easier to guess the age of someone who is your own race? Your own gender? What about your own age group? If so, what might explain these patterns?
These are just a few of the questions that the founders of AgeGuess were interested in when they developed the project. Since 2011, scientists from around the world have worked with the data to learn more about age interpretation and crowdsourced data collection. Bilal El-Masri, a University of Denmark biomedical student, looked at the data to find out whether people from ethnically diverse countries have an advantage when guessing the ages of ethnically diverse people.
“Populations from countries with greater ethnic diversity are generally better at estimating age than people from countries with a narrow diversity”, he says. El-Masri looks at the nationalities of AgeGuess players, and then looks at their ability to guess ages across ethnic groups. The data suggests that when individuals are regularly exposed to diverse faces, they learn more about discerning age in varied faces. These individuals practice interpreting signs of aging while attending to individual differences that are not relevant to the aging process.
The site has already sparked interest around the world: when a news story about AgeGuess came out in Venezuela, a country of predominantly mixed race individuals, people flocked to the website. They uploaded their own photos and guessed the ages of faces from Italy, Korea, and other places around the world. And in the United States, when a high school teacher introduced the game to her students, the site saw a brief spike in teenage guessers. Scientists then looked to see whether the teens were best at guessing the ages of other young people.
According to El-Masri, it does seem that people are better at guessing the ages of people who are similar to them, but the project needs more data. Likely, if we figure out how individuals guess the ages of others, we could train medical computers to accurately evaluate aging. This could help medical professionals perform more accurate check-ups, and evaluate the health of patients in an unbiased manner.
Misevic and Steiner also wonder about how individuals are aging themselves. “Are we just living longer or are we gaining quality of time of life as well?” Steiner asked.
If we were living longer as well as gaining quality of life, we would show fewer signs of aging. People would seem more youthful despite their older ages. Biologically, forty would be the new thirty. If we were living longer but not gaining quality time of life, we would be spending our gained years with debilitating health problems, such as infection and memory loss.
Currently, 3,650 users have played AgeGuess. What better way to spend your time than helping the users and scientists learn how time affects us? Previous research by AgeGuess has already shown us that as the last four hours passed, we only aged by three hours. Help out the international project at AgeGuess.org.
Nina Friedman recently received her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Colorado College. In her free time she enjoys and making bioscience memes and rock climbing in the North Cascades of Washington state.
Answers: From left to right-39, 36, 36, 19, 28, 41
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