Do we smile because of the way it makes us sound?
Yes. Smiling raises the pitch of our voice making us sound less dominant and threatening.
The smile enigma stumped anthropologists for hundreds of years. Finally, John J. Ohala, a professor from the Department of Linguistics at University of California–Berkeley, revealed his answer. We smile, he discovered, not for the visual cues. We smile because of the way it sounds. Or more specifically, because of the way it makes our voices sound.
In other words, when we smile, we pull the cheek flesh back against our teeth, and make our mouth cavity smaller. A smiling mouth raises the pitch of our voice, which is instinctively perceived as less dominant, more approachable. The smile started as a way to sound less threatening, and evolved into a way to look more approachable. Not a visual cue, but an aural cue. From a social interaction perspective, then, smiles aren’t window dressing. You’re fascinated with smiles because they communicate friendly intentions and a desire to bond.
And smiles are associated with lower dominance. You can judge the relative status of football players and models by their smile:
Across four studies, the current paper demonstrates that smiles are associated with lower social status. Moreover, the association between smiles and lower status appears in the psychology of observers and generalizes across two forms of status: prestige and dominance. In the first study, faces of fashion models representing less prestigious apparel brands were found to be more similar to a canonical smile display than the faces of models representing more prestigious apparel brands. In a second study, after being experimentally primed with either high or low prestige fashion narratives, participants in the low prestige condition were more likely to perceive smiles in a series of photographs depicting smiling and non-smiling faces. A third study of football player photographs revealed that the faces of less dominant (smaller) football players were more similar to the canonical smile display than the faces of their physically larger counterparts. Using the same football player photographs, a fourth study found that smiling was a more reliable indicator of perceived status-relevant personality traits than perceptions of the football players’ physical sizes inferred from the photographs.
Source: “Smiles as signals of lower status in football players and fashion models: Evidence that smiles are associated with lower dominance and lower prestige” from Evolutionary Psychology 10(3): 371-397
To a degree it’s true that when you smile the whole world smiles with you.
People judge things more positively while smiling, so our own smile can set off a chain reaction causing more positive encounters.
The researchers found a chameleon effect. When confederates rubbed their faces, so did the student, and when confederates shook their feet, the participant did the same thing. This was true of facial expressions as well. The NYU students smiled, on average, a little over once a minute when they were with a smiling confederate and averaged only a third of a smile per minute when they were with a confederate who did not smile. We judge people and objects to be more pleasant when we are smiling in comparison to when we are frowning, so if you want your interviewer to think positively about you, try smiling. The saying is true: “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”
Smiling has many other benefits:
- You’ll be more creative.
- You’ll be more attractive.
- It will improve your mood.
- It reduces stress.
- Smiling can prevent bank robberies. Seriously.
- How can you improve your smile? Smile slower.
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