Wednesday, March 13, 2013

7 Scientific Reasons for You to Smile Right Now

By zitona qatar  via Wikimedia Commons
You're having a bad day.

"Smile!", says random annoying co-worker. And if you do genuinely smile, it's only because you're enthusiastically fantasizing about telling them to fuck off. Evil smiles count.

Unfortunately, annoying co-worker has a point. There's a lot of science to back them up. It's doubtful they know that, though. If they did, they'd probably be less annoying.

For example, instead of telling you to smile, they'd probably just... smile. And in spite of yourself, you might smile back (without malice this time.) That's because smiles are contagious. Not only is it common sense, but there's a lot of scientific evidence for it.1

There's also a lot of scientific evidence for why I'm going to try to persuade you to smile more (if you don't already): it suggests that if I can convince you to do so, the world will be a better place. And that's worth a shot.

Presenting: The 7 Scientific Reasons for You to Smile Right Now

By Ian Muttoo Wikimedia Commons
1. It reduces stress
In a University of Kansas study, students (who didn't know what the study was about) were split into three groups. Chopsticks were placed between their teeth in such a way that the first group mimicked a neutral expression, the second a normal smile, and the third a beaming smile. Note that these weren't real smiles at all.

Photo from the researcher's thesis.
They were then instructed to perform a series of stressful tasks. The result? Those who were "smiling" - especially the beaming type of smile - not only reported less stress than those with neutral expressions, but also had significantly lower heart rates. "Grin and bear it", evidently, works. 2

On a personal note, my wife (who has a demanding job) sent me an OMG message the other day, and proved the research out.

me: So sorry :( Try smiling and see if it helps ;;^^
D: Good idea. It actually does. Thanks. :) It releases some tight pressure in my chest, funny. :)
me: Can't argue with the science ^^
  Wikimedia Commons

2. It makes you more attractive
Would you like to be seen as friendly, trustworthy, kind and altruistic? Smile. If it's genuine, it'll do the trick (of course, after having given such an impression, it'd likely be helpful to follow through by actually displaying said qualities.)

Regardless, studies have shown that from the US to China, to farming and foraging cultures in the Bolivian Amazon, across all cultures, that's what a smile can do. 3

3. It makes you sexier (if you're a woman, at least)
Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that, to men, the sexiest woman tends to be the smiling, happy one. After that, the demure woman with the averted gaze, and finally, the proud, confident one.

Now, I'm not going to make any judgments on that. I'm just advocating that you smile. Especially if you're horny.

On that score, guys, smiling and happy is not necessarily the way to go. For women, the hottest guy is the proud, confident one. Next comes the brooding, mysterious guy (unless it's a younger woman, in which case brooding guy vies with confident guy - no surprise there), and happy, smiling man comes in last.

Again, no judgments forthcoming. But you'd be forgiven for choosing to rock a little more Aragorn than Ace Ventura on your next date.

Again, these finding hold up across cultures, more or less. 4

4. People who smile more tend to make more money 

This one's pretty simple. Beyond making you more attractive, smiling conveys self-confidence, competence, and promotes more teamwork and collaboration.

Multiple studies have shown that people who smile more get:
  • Hired more
  • tipped more
  • get more raises and promotions
  • sell more, and
  • achieve better customer satisfaction. 3

5. It can make you live longer
Scientists at Wayne State University looked at a bunch of old baseball cards and found that the bigger and more genuine the smile, the longer the lifespan. The difference between a neutral expression and a beaming smile? About seven years.

Considering what we've covered so far, that's not so surprising. 5

6. When someone sees you smile, it can be better than sex, chocolate or shopping

Psychologists at the University of Cardiff set up 109 people with brain scan machines and heart monitors to see how much their mood would be boosted by various stimuli. They'd be given chocolate, money, shown pictures of friends and family, etc.

The results:
  • A child's smile gave the brain as much stimulation as 2,000 chocolate bars or 16,000 pounds sterling.
  • The smile of a loved one equated to 600 chocolate bars or 8,500 Pounds.
  • A follow-up survey of 1,000 adults found that a smile ranked higher than sex, chocolate or shopping. 6

7. It makes the world a better place
You may already know that a smile can give you a better chance of receiving help when you ask for it, but did you know that smiling at someone can make them more willing to help someone else?

French scientists conducted an experiment with 800 random, unknowing people: after being smiled at by a stranger (one of eight volunteers), they wanted to see if a person would be more likely to help another stranger out (in this case, another volunteer who would drop a bunch of disks all over the floor.)

The answer: people were 50% more likely to help a stranger out merely because another stranger had recently smiled at them. It would appear that paying it forward might be in our genes. 7

In Conclusion:

Whether you want to be less stressed, more attractive, sexier (if female!), wealthier, longer lived, mood-lifting, altruism-spreading or all of the above, my only suggestion today is, in the words of the random annoying co-worker: "Smile!"

1 Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D:  There's Magic in Your Smile 
2 Association for Psychological Science: Grin and Bear It! Smiling Facilitates Stress Recovery
3 Ricardo Godoy et al.: Do smiles have a face value? Panel evidence from Amazonian Indians
4 Jessica L. Tracy and Alec T. Beall: Happy Guys Finish Last:The Impact of Emotion Expressions on Sexual Attraction
5 Ernest L. Abel and Michael L. Kruger: Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity
6 Scotsman: One smile can make you feel a million dollars
7 Nicolas Gueguen and Marie-Agnes De Gail: The effect of smiling on helping behavior
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