How Does a Smile Affect Others?

How Does a Smile Affect Others?

“When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you…” goes the lyrics to an old song that has been sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. And, most often than not, this is usually the case. You smile and people smile back at you, or when you’re in the dumps and someone flashes you a smile, you can’t help but smile back.

Your smile is something special. It truly is. But, apart from being a sign of happiness, a smile can signify many other things and have other effects on the people around us.

Read on to find out how your smile can affect those who see it.

Your Smile Can Spread Kindness and Transform Your World

Your smile is contagious. People who see it can’t help but smile back, and this has been proven by science.

In a Swedish study, researchers showed images of people displaying different emotions— joy, fear, anger and surprise—to participants who were then asked to frown when they saw a picture of someone smiling. The results: Researchers found that study participants directly imitated the facial expressions that they saw. This happens because of the cingulate cortex, a part of the brain that is responsible for our unconscious automatic responses. In other words, thanks to the cingulate cortex, we automatically mimic the facial expressions we see. In the study, participants had to make a conscious effort to frown when they saw someone smiling.

In addition, smiling has also been called “the universal language of kindness” because it promotes fellowship and encourages the creation of social bonds between people. So smile because people can’t help but smile back. And when you do, you spread not just your smile but add some positivity into the world as well. Just think what a little act of kindness can do when it spreads to many people, and you could help start that chain of happiness and positivity.

Smile to Improve Your Relationships and Health

Because of the automatic mimicry facilitated by the cingulate cortex, it’s easier to form and build relationships that benefit not just you but other people as well. For instance, when you smile, the brain activates the body’s reward centers and releases feel-good chemicals. Someone who sees your smile and reciprocates reap the same benefits, along with an increased chance of living a longer and healthier life. Now, who wouldn’t want that? And, all you have to do is smile more or smile back.

A Smile Can Restore Trust

Of course, the benefits of smiling that we’ve discussed so far are all anchored on the caveat that your smile is a reflection of happiness and other good emotions, not one of dominance or superiority.

In a study, researchers found that a particular kind of smile can help restore trust in relationships even after that person has been found to be uncooperative or untrustworthy. According to Dr. Magdalena Rychlowska from Queen’s University Belfast, there are three different smiles that can influence social judgments and trust in difficult situations where there could be potential conflict.

  • Reward smile encourages and signifies happiness
  • Dominance smile strengthens the status or superiority of a person.
  • Affiliation smile helps build and maintain social bonds. The study found that this type of smile was “perceived as an attempt to make amends, restoring higher levels of trust than the other two smiles.“

“Facial expressions are very important in building social relationships and not all smiles are an expression of joy—there is much more behind a smile,” says Dr. Rychlowska.

“[The study] also highlights the importance of social context—a happy, smile that could be read as a signal of trustworthiness in one setting can, in another setting, be seen as evidence of bad intentions,” she adds.

A Smile Makes You More Approachable

When you smile, others usually mirror your behavior, and this mirroring can help us interact and build strong bonds with other people in a social setting. Happiness is infectious, and other people will typically reflect your smile back to you.

Participants in one study perceived people with broad smiles as warmer, while those with a slight smile were perceived as more competent. So, the way you smile can help you create a closer connection with someone or build credibility with potential customers.

Smiling Boosts Attractiveness

Depending on your gender, flashing those pearly whites could make you more attractive—or not.

A study that examined individuals’ sexual attractiveness based on facial expressions found that men were more attracted to happy women, or those who were smiling. On the contrary, women were less attracted to men who smile. The study found that happiness (denoted by smiling) was the “least attractive male emotion expressions.”

In a separate study, researchers used fMRI and found that “viewing attractive faces [i.e., a smiling face] activated the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, a region involved in processing sensory rewards.”

“The presence of a smile may provide an important signal that a reward is or is not attainable,” the researchers wrote in a 2003 issue of Neuropsychologia.

A Smile Can Signify Altruism

Your smile could also advertise your altruistic intentions, according to one study published in a 2007 issue of Evolution and Human Behavior. Participants were instructed to share some of the fee they received from the study with a friend, and these people displayed more genuine smiles than during a neutral scenario. The researchers concluded that genuine smiles can be a way to “reliably advertise altruistic intentions.”

Your Smile Can Increase Cooperativeness in Others

People can perceive a genuine smile as a signal of cooperation, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Researchers found that participants who were tasked to write an essay about a time when they were rejected “showed a greater preference to work with individuals displaying genuine [smiles] than those bearing cheap grins.”

So Smile, It’s Contagious

It’s amazing how the simple act of smiling—something that we do without even realizing it—can positively influence others in many ways. So, keep on smiling. It makes the world a better place.

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