We tend to think of our smile as something personal, something that we do because we are happy and we’re spontaneously expressing that emotion. But, of course, smiles are actually a social act. When we smile, we intend for others to see it, so the way we smile is mediated by other people’s responses. This is what can keep us from smiling if we have suffered a visible tooth trauma, but it also controls how we smile when we do smile.
That’s part of the conclusion made by researchers who looked at how a leader’s national culture influenced the style of their smile.
Do You Like to Be Excited or Soothed?
Researchers were looking at a key distinction between cultures of the US and China. People in both societies smile when they’re happy, but they don’t always value the same kinds of happiness. In the US, for example, people are attractive to positive values that are also high-energy, such as enthusiasm and energy. In response, our politicians are more likely to smile broadly and display a lot of teeth.
In China on the other hand, where people are drawn to positive values that are soothing, like calm and peacefulness, leaders tend to smile less broadly.
The study was conducted in several phases to attempt to explore this effect and how broadly applicable the principle was. In the first stage of the study, researchers looked at pictures of 98 politicians, CEOs, and university presidents. These were compared against 91 pictures of Chinese individuals in similar positions of power. Of course, the Americans smiled more broadly.
Next, researchers looked at an expanded sample size of 223 American and 266 Chinese and Taiwanese photos. This study didn’t just include leaders in power, but also those who were running for office to determine if winning changed the character of their smile. Although researchers considered additional variables, they found that culture was the primary factor in determining the extent of a person’s smile, not whether they won or lost their election.
To see if these results could be expanded, researchers looked at a study of college students from 10 different countries, showing whether those students valued more exciting values or whether they enjoy calm values. They found that the smiles of their leaders reflected the values expressed by the college students.
Americans Love Big Smiles from Our Leaders
It’s not surprising that Americans love big smiles in our leaders, since our culture largely invented the modern institution of smiling for pictures, and every leader since Teddy Roosevelt has habitually worn a smile during public appearances.
Smilers are winners, and America loves its winners. That’s why smiling can get you places in this country, from getting a promotion to getting a loan to just staying out of jail. While not having a good smile can close the door on many personal and professional opportunities.
If you’re unhappy with your smile and don’t show it as readily as you should, we can help with a smile makeover. Please call