Don’t smile too much

by on February 26, 2007 at 2:18 pm in Science | Permalink

Here are two excerpted quotations, cited by John Tierney in his sadly gated blog:

“While we typically think of a smile as displaying our emotional state (happiness), it also appears that smiles convey information about the signaler’s status.  Specifically, lower status individuals appear to smile more than higher status individuals.  I suspect that this is due, in part, to the fact that there are several different types of smiles, including a true happiness smile and a true embarrassment smile.  The latter smile, the embarrassment display, is often seen as an appeasement display in primates.  Jimmy Carter smiled a lot, George Bush smiles much less.  Jimmy Carter is generally perceived to be warm and friendly, but not very dominant and strong.  George Bush is perceived be be somewhat less warm and friendly, but is seen as quite dominant and strong.”

And:

“I believe that the smiling faces of the models for the lower priced brands are simply conveying information regarding the social status of the brand image, rather than attempting to make customers feel better.  Sometimes the advertiser must make a trade-off between advertising high status and presenting an emotionally positive image.  Thus, the non-smiling faces of the higher status brands are not trying to make the consumer feel bad; they are simply attempting to display the signals that are associated with higher status.  We liked Elvis even when he sneered at us from the stage because the contemptuous sneer is typically produced by individuals with higher status.  Although we don’t generally like contemptuous individuals, most folks admire higher status individuals and want to be around them.  Thus, the irony is that higher status brands are creating a positive image -– high status–by using a negative signal (lack of a smile).”

1 Rick February 26, 2007 at 3:15 pm

Tierney’s not gated by TimesSelect, if that’s what you mean.

2 Keith February 26, 2007 at 3:33 pm

If all you see in another person’s smile is a chimpanzee begging for its life, then you are a very lonely, sad, and probably not even very high-status individual.

3 theCoach February 26, 2007 at 3:42 pm

“George Bush is perceived … as quite dominant and strong.†

I think Tierney meant to write:

“George Bush is perceived … as quite authoritarian and petulant.†

4 Student February 26, 2007 at 3:47 pm

This would seem to be sadly consistant with the fact that women smile more than men, except when they occupy similar work and social roles, in which case the gender difference disappears.
http://www.yale.edu/opa/newsr/03-03-18-05.all.html

5 Kevin February 26, 2007 at 3:55 pm

Keith: Ryan (is it ryan the ex-temp??) is merely quoting wit and wisdom of the inimitable Dwight Schrute.

6 David Wright February 26, 2007 at 4:34 pm

This is an interesting idea that certainly wold explain that bizarre pouty expression that seems so prevelent in haute coutre advertisments like this one for Dior. I would certainly rather be with one of those smily, freckle-faced girls in the gap ads than with that woman. But that probably just means that I’m a looking for a low-status partner to dominate.

7 Keith February 26, 2007 at 4:50 pm

Okay, egg is on my face. Dwight Schrute is the Gareth character in the American version of The Office, and I missed Ryan’s joke, and even missed the assist from Kevin.

The smile has been wiped off my face. Of course, since I’ve now suffered a loss of status, shouldn’t I now get to smilin’?

8 Brad Hutchings February 26, 2007 at 5:56 pm

The scowling model thing has more to do with Euro chic than social signaling. Go back pre Calvin Klein and you’ll see lots of people smiling. Plus the photos back then were from the pre-black-and-white era. It used to be that a perfect smile was an important part of fashion. My bet is that lots of these models just have bad teeth or show lots of gums or don’t correctly mask their bottom teeth with their lower lip. Which gets me back to the Euro chic thing… They’re decades behind us in oral hygiene, let alone orthodontics. Is it any wonder that they would accentuate their deficiencies in nutrition as well and call it “fashion”?

9 Scaramouche February 26, 2007 at 6:44 pm

I always thought that lazy people smiled more. Like they taught in Sunday School: it takes 14 muscles to smile and 29 to frown.

Or maybe, it was that true christians smile more than fake chistians.

Could it be that the meek smile while inheriting the earth?

It’s all so confusing…

10 Kadeem Morgan February 26, 2007 at 8:10 pm

Smile???? what does that really mean???? To me all I think that means is “happy”. But if you really think about it when you grow up in life you are always being told to smile. I remember when I went for my 1st job interview, my mom told me to speak well and dont forget to “smile”. I like what everybody said beacsue there are all kinds of smiles beasue I have had my share of embarrasing smiles too. Smiling is a great thing and i love to do it because I was blessed with a nice smile. But I also know that smiling cant get you far in life.

11 Robert Sperry February 27, 2007 at 4:01 am

What does this say about happiness research?

Physiological states map to phychological states. If high status people are not smiling as much, they may not have as much experience of being happy! That would make for a strange confounding variable when looking at what makes people happy… having low status?

12 a February 27, 2007 at 4:34 am

to Brad Hutchins: just as the Americans have the myth of the European with bad teeth who does not wash his/her armpits, Europeans have the prejudice that Americans smile too much – not because they are happy, but because they pretend they are happy, they are just fake. My impression is that it is just a cultural misunderstanding.

Also, in general, the level of “smiling” seems to be a cultural norm – Italians smile much more than Hungarians. Hence “cross-country comparisons” are difficult.

13 Bill February 27, 2007 at 9:30 am

I never thought of Jimmy Carter as particularly warm or friendly. At any rate, he, too, seems to smile a lot less in public these days.

14 rob February 27, 2007 at 11:45 am

Maybe lower status people smile more because they aren’t smart enough to understand the situation.

15 melior February 27, 2007 at 2:12 pm

…there are several different types of smiles, including a true happiness smile and a true embarrassment smile.

Neither of which should be confused with the adolescent smirk or the shit-eating grin.

16 Jon H February 27, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Maybe high-status people don’t smile because they’re trying not to be noticed, lest they be mugged.

17 Katie April 2, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Maybe people smile simply because they feel like it. Maybe an embarrassment smile is the same as a happy smile, I know when I fall and laugh at myself, I’m genuinely laughing. Maybe upper class people with high stress lifestyles or demanding jobs aren’t smiling because they aren’t happy. I don’t think smiling has anything to do with class status. You can be happy wherever you are, that’s up to the individual.

18 Anonymous June 19, 2007 at 7:43 pm

If you go to Asia you will see that everyone smiles. They smile becasue they are happy. If everyone smiles it has a great psychological effect of creating happiness and harmony.
This is a poverty of the west. It takes more energy to not smile. People too mch energy tring to live in a seperate box…smiling can save the planet!

19 Jerome April 19, 2008 at 5:29 pm

John Travolta smiles a lot. Who wouldn’t want to hang with him? I would consider him successful (in what he does for a living and, besides, he just seems to be happy). Point is – So called “successful people” you see on the street, typically try to emit their perceived successfulness to others due to their egoic condition. You see a guy – you think “HE looks successful” – and he’s going to ignore you because he’s either a snob or he’s afraid you’ll end up talking to him and he’ll be discovered as a fraud. He may not be successful at all. He may be incredibly miserable. His wife maybe cheating, his daughter pregnant and his son hooked on drugs. His fortune may have been cut in half in a day’s trading, but he looks good and maybe drives a nice car. Everyone measures success differently anyway; some by family, others by career, others by their possessions. To me, when I see someone smiling, they are at least highly successful in the moment. I could go on but Tierney is off the mark – WAY off the mark†¦

20 Pat June 30, 2008 at 1:47 am

So thats why lower status people in England smile a lot at higher status people,they are getting their taxes in DSS unemployment benifits.

21 Margott August 22, 2008 at 7:59 pm

smile is always focusing on inner feeling as true feeling…..

22 Anonymous October 22, 2008 at 10:21 pm
23 herefast123 October 28, 2008 at 5:32 am
24 herefast123 October 30, 2008 at 9:18 am
25 ASDF April 7, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Bush isn’t seen as dominant or strong.

26 Jar Mobile February 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm

thank you very much for this article

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