We like to think that our smile is uniquely our own, and there’s certainly some truth to that. There are many aspects of your smile that reflects your individual personality.
But not all of it. Much of our smile reflects not only our individual personalities, but also our national culture. At least, that’s what researchers are saying in a recently published study that looked at the smiles of political and cultural leaders and showed that some differences could be accounted for by what types of values a culture embraces.
Excitable Boys (and Girls)
The key difference that researchers were exploring was the impact of a country’s particular type of positive emotion on how its leaders smiled. A society that reveres positive values that were also “excited,” such as enthusiasm and energy–like the US–tends to have politicians that smile very broadly in pictures.
On the other hand, societies that revere positive values that are “soothing,” such as calm and peacefulness–like China–produce leaders that tend to smile less broadly.
For the first phase of the study, researchers at Stanford University looked at 98 US politicians, CEOs, and university presidents and compared them with 91 pictures of Chinese individuals in comparable positions. The American leaders smiled more broadly than their counterparts.
To expand the sample size and introduce additional variables, a second study was performed using 223 American photos and 266 Chinese and Taiwanese leaders. The study also included politicians who were running for office at the time pictures were taken, to see whether winning or losing a race impacted the quality of their smile. Researchers found, again, that the primary determiner of the size of the smile, is cultural, and that’s not going to change.
Finally, researchers expanded their data to other countries. Using surveys of college students about their positive values, they were able to determine which countries had excited or soothing values, and show that in each country the degree of smiling related to their placement on the excited-soothing continuum.
Smiling Is a Uniquely American Institution
We’ve said it before: nobody smiles like Americans. And that smile has only gotten bigger with time. It can be hard to give a big American smile if you are uncomfortable about the appearance of your teeth.