Do better scientists smile more?

Theory and research indicates that individuals with more frequent positive emotions are better at attaining goals at work and in everyday life. In the current study we examined whether the expression of genuine positive emotions by scientists was positively correlated with work-related accomplishments, defined by bibliometric (e.g. number of citations) and sociometric (number of followers for scholarly updates) indices. Using a sample of 440 scientists from a social networking site for researchers, multiple raters coded smile intensity (full smile, partial smile, or no smile) in publicly available photographs. We found that scientists who presented a full smile had the same quantity of publications yet of higher quality (e.g. citations per paper) and attracted more followers to their updates compared to less positive emotionally expressive peers; results remained after controlling for age and sex. Thin-slicing approaches to the beneficial effects of positive emotionality offer an ecologically valid approach to complement experimental and longitudinal evidence. Evidence linking positive emotional expressions to scientific impact and social influence provides further support for broaden and build models of positive emotions.

I wonder for which fields this might not be true…?

The paper has many authors, including my colleague Todd B. Kashdan.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


I do believe the argument. But it could simply be that success makes you happier, and they looked at lots of photos of successful people getting their rewards for success. Not paying $42.50 to see if they ruled things like that out in their study.

Yeah this one was too easy. It's just as likely to go either way, and seems pretty hard to control for. Are you successful because you're happy, or happy because you're successful?

A study I'd be interested in would be to correlate between happiness, success, athleticism, and intelligence. My guess is that they're all VERY highly correlated.

Any guesses for why that study wouldn't get funded?

It's even worse, from a causal perspective. The question is can you make people better scientists by giving them happiness classes.

These scientists seem to make that leap effortlessly, smiling.

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Many of this metrics could simply mean that more "popular" scientists have more easily their woek published and cited.

Successful days are rare in science, a few per year. Thus, it's good to have positive emotions during long periods of work and no results. I work today in consulting and rewards (finishing a report, invoicing, getting a new contract) come every week. As PhD student, rewards came after several weeks of work. Sometimes, it was only a dead-end.

Also, collaboration is of utmost importance. Send some sample to other lab, take a student for other professor for a few months, write something together. But.....positive emotions are good for every activity done by a team, not only science.

And the date on which these photos are taken bears little relation to those successes. Ostensibly they are all taken shortly after being hired.

Seriously? That looks like from an article in the Onion, but I checked, and no, it is published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

It seems that now you can pick any two numerical variables, compute the correlation between them, and make a "scientific" article out of it. Oh, you also have to pretend your two variables both measure something interesting, even when it is obviously false -- in this case, the number of smiles on photos are supposed to represent "genuine positive emotions" and the number of citations is supposed to represent the quality of one's scientific work.

That looks like from an article in the Onion, but I checked, and no, it is published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

So not as authoritative as the Onion then?

SMSF shoots, SMSF scores!

Everybody shoots and everybody scores with my wife. I'm a cuck.


"Loss of consensual reality as calculated by time-series semantic convergence between The Onion and NYT headlines."

It would help those of us who speak English if Americans would use the spelling "positive" for any precise use of the word and "pahsitive" when they are using it as a general, ill-defined hurray-word.

Otherwise we end up with such pish-English as "positive emotions by scientists was positively correlated ...".

I don't know how they should spell "negative" when they use it as a general, ill-defined boo-word; maybe they should just replace it by "Russian".

Why Russian? Novichok sounds so much more negative these days, at least in England.

"negatory emotions by scientists were negatively correlated ..."

Or you can change both "positive" and "negative" to the same word, for example "aladeen" :

As others have pointed out, the correlation may be backwards. Take Elon Musk (please). His smiling face correlated with several years of success for Tesla (as measured by a rising stock price). Then came his twitter tirades and public criticisms of his own employees and, sure enough, Tesla's success reversed (as measured by a falling stock price). My question: is Tesla a tech company or an old-fashioned industrial company? If it's a tech company, Musk has reason to smile, but if it's an old-fashioned industrial company, Musk has reason to frown. Take a look at the photo of the partners in this NYT article ( about Index Ventures, a venture capital fund. The partners are smiling no doubt because Index Ventures has been on a roll as of late. The fund's success is tied exclusively to investments in tech companies, companies that don't make things but rather provide services for companies that make things. Of course, that's the definition of "tech". Tech has been on a roll even as old-fashioned industrial companies (like GE) have not. Can tech continue to prosper in the absence of prosperity among old-fashioned industrial companies? Can Tesla prosper simply as an old-fashioned industrial company that makes cars? Will Musk be smiling or frowning this time next year? [For what it's worth (not much), I see tech getting farther removed from making things and the people who use things. In such a world, what's the point of people. Is that cause for a smile or a frown?]

Can tech continue to prosper in the absence of prosperity among old-fashioned industrial companies?

You actually had me thinking this comment was on topic for a sentence or two.

C’mon, it — the post — ends with a brilliant, incisive question that is on every thinking person’s lips: “What’s the point of people?”

What about Trump?

I heard that hundreds of years ago, for a time, Dutch tulip bulbs were getting what? $1,700 a bulb. Friday, Amazon closed at $1,710.63 doesn't pay a dividend and did not make a net profit past quarter. Coincidence?

I can't "justify" TSLA stock price. I have a wild-eyed speculation: big Wall Street money is heavily invested, can't get out, so they prop it. After all, TSLA loses $13 a share and (SHHH) will soon need to again "tap" the junk bond markets to raise cash to meet cash flow needs.

Friday July 6, NAS was up 2.4% for the week, TSLA was down 9.9% to $308.90. Two weeks prior, TSLA had been pumped higher to $358.17. Seems as if big players are moving in and out.

I keep saying, "Short TSLA."

My view: Musk is very good where Spacex is concerned. As for TSLA, Elon is a 21st century incarnation of P. T. Barnum, only you won't see Jumbo for the price.

File under "News You Can't Use."

My recent experience with scientists is watching "The Big Bang Theory." There isn't a whole lot of smiling going on. Although, Dr. Leonard should be considering his TV wife. She could be the perfect woman, if her father owns a liquor store,

In my time in Special Operations I found those overtly stoic people to be more fit for a long career away from family and friends in austere environments. I'm not sure it made them directly better...just more willing to stick it out longer...and therefore more productive through longevity.

In the business world many successful people have profile photos (eg LinkedIn) with a non-smiling, serious, focused but slightly at-ease expression. (The less successful who use serious photos come across as comically intense or dull).

Who could imagine . . . that some (any?) of the "440 scientists from a social networking site for researchers" could express "genuine positive emotions"? (We've been told for most of our lives that scientists are strict devotees of reason: at least, this is commonly adduced to explain just why we should bother listening to scientists, that and their undying dedication to the observation and measurement of repeatable phenomena.)

Smiling being the sole signifier cited for the expression of "genuine positive emotion" (the dubious sociometric data surely don't rely on dental signaling), should we begin looking out for "genuinely smiling" scientists toodling about their daily tasks and experiments with positive demeanor?

How many of the paper's authors own stock in leading toothpaste manufacturing companies?

"...which fields this might not be true…?" - Comedians? Professional comedians take their work very seriously..

The article reminded me it's time to again read, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Packed within that one book is all the positive energy you need to succeed.

You may not realize this from my comments here, but I am actually hilarious in person. Yes, really.

You're in my top 5 of MR commenters I'd like to meet. Hilarious would be a bonus.

Probably the ones that smile more are the ones that have a more successful career. This is just a correlation. In addition, there are very few relevant controls.

This article is evidence for how Publish or Perish results in piles of useless nonsense.

Even if it had scientific merit, I'd love to see how they dealt with obvious endogeneity.

Full smiles are often not genuine. In the business world it pays to know the difference.

The appearance of one's teeth also tends to explain propensity to smile. While there might be a strong correlation between genuine positive emotions and dental work/ caring for teeth, anything less than 1 weakens the author's inferences.

1. From personal experience, the causality is definitely backwards, namely, more scientific success leads to better moods. I generally are happier on periods when the work is going well, and grumpy when things are stuck. Another observation is that older scientists tends to be happier, because after they accumulates a critical mass of achievements, they worry less about their reputation.

2. A "social networking site for researchers" is the worst idea ever (for researchers). I signed up for researchgate as a online tool for managing bibliography, but I quickly found out that I will be bombarded by how much my peers are publishing, while I labor along in my slow moving projects. It's the same effect facebook/instagram has on private life, except it strikes at your main self worth. As if we are not stressed enough already.

My econ 101 and 102 professor greatly influenced me (to choose econ as my major). A big part of it was his ever-present smile and good humor. I want what he's having. Even in his serious moments, Cowen has that same cheeriness. Some claim that a chip on the shoulder helps avoid complacency. Don't believe them. Whether a scientist, economist, lawyer (me), or president, success follows those with positive emotions. Indeed, the tow most successful presidents in the 20th century, FDR and Reagan (who modeled his own positive emotions after FDR), were known for their positive emotions and cheeriness. Have a nice day.

I'm one of the happiest people I know. But my smiles are infrequent: Bad teeth. Not unbrushed or decayed, but naturally darkish and spaced. I'm often accused of smirking, when in fact I'm only restraining a genuine, heartfelt smile, so as not to spoil a happy social moment by exposing my crooked choppers.

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