Here are a few of the insights in Becker’s and Srinivasan’s review of the research:
- People with happy faces are viewed positively “in even the most remote cultures” (p. 189).
- Smiles can be identified at greater distances than other expressions, perhaps useful in earlier, more primitive times.
- Smiles can help reduce hostile feelings or emotions.
- Teeth showing while smiling makes the happy face very easy to detect.
- Happy faces tend to get noticed even when we don’t notice other things in our environment (inattentional blindness).
- Happy faces facilitate remembering faces, even recognizing later when the person is not smiling.
At the most basic level we do not process the world around us neutrally. Some things we like; some, we don’t. We come at the world and give it meaning. One way we do that is by our affective assessment of “like” and “dislike.” Seeing a happy person, a happy face, should increase the likelihood of a positive assessment and apparently we do so easily and quickly.
The implications are almost self-evident. You are having your photo made. What does the photographer say? “Smile”, “cheese." All things being equal, whom do you like better, the colleague who laughs and smiles or the one who never does? For some the lack of smiling may be a blindspot, something others notice but they do not. And reviewing our images on social media, such as Linkedin photos or Twitter images, is probably a good idea.
Becker, D. V., & Srinivasan, N. (2014). The vividness of the happy face. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23 (3), 189-194.