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February 26, 2007

Smile!

This bit on how smiling projects low status is fairly interesting, particularly because I'm damn quick with a grin. As the theory goes, smiling is an adaptive behavior for weaker/lower status members of the tribe to set others at ease. That's why more elite models and football players in the pictures seem so somber. Put in slightly different language, they're playing hard-to-get. By displaying that the current activity -- say, being photographed and admired -- isn't enough to crack their melancholy, the subjects suggest that they're accustomed to a far greater level of grandeur and stimulation, and it's thus well worth one's while to elevate yourself or the event to impress such high-caliber individuals. On the other hand, photographed celebrities spend a lot of time smiling and it doesn't seem to lower their status at all. What do you guys think?

February 26, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Reminds me of a great line delived by Dwight in "The Office:"

"I never smile if I can help it.... Showing one's teeth is a submission signal in primates. When someone smiles at me, all I see is a chimpanzee begging for its life."

Posted by: nolo | Feb 26, 2007 3:10:10 PM

The idea makes some sense, but there are of course some notable exceptions, particularly those irrepressible types who just have generosity or compassion or some other aspect of personality that goes with smiling bubbling over, at no cost to their status. Their power and status, along with some celebrities, is tied to their smile, indirectly. And of course not smiling doesn't in itself increase one's status.

Tierney mentions what I often hear, that Bush is seen as dominant and strong. He's never impressed me as either.

Status isn't necessarily such a great goal, in any case.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 26, 2007 3:34:51 PM

Link below - Tierney is likely just wrong. Smile away without concern for status.

Don N.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12153125&dopt=Abstract

Posted by: Don N. | Feb 26, 2007 3:39:00 PM

Celebrities have, by definition, 'made it', so they can smile.

I do think that an appropriate smile need be distinguished from a fawning smile. The person who smiles just to be smiling (usually at the 'witty' or 'profound' utterances of the pack leader) is doing the same thing as a dog rolling on his stomach and exposing their belly. It is submission. We are pack animals, with fairly rigid hierarchies (not so rigid that only the alpha male gets some sex or first crack at the food, but symbolically).

Now, for ads, promo pieces, album covers, etc. the mean glower is prescribed but not for playing hard to get. It is partly for looking like a dominant celeb, and party because we worship the hard side of sexuality - of the let's get it on kind.

Or something....

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Feb 26, 2007 3:43:01 PM

Why couldn't smiling just as well be the expression of the benevolent leader, trying to put his subordinates at ease? That post at MaRev is really thin on any sort of empirical evidence.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 26, 2007 4:13:01 PM

Uh, given that chimpanzees' teeth are about their favorite killing weapon, a smiling chimp is not begging for his life. He is threatening yours.

Posted by: Kevin Rooney | Feb 26, 2007 4:15:07 PM

Kevin, have you ever watched the Office?

Posted by: nolo | Feb 26, 2007 4:16:29 PM

Are we talking about full smiles, or crooked smiles?

Full smiles show strength and confidence. For examples among athletes, it's the elite players -- and especially those those who consider themselves elite -- who smile the most often (think Joe Namath or Deion Sanders). From what I've seen, it's the talented ones with chips on their shoulders that smile less often, or have crooked smiles. I guess a test of this theory is if Peyton Manning starts doing full smiles next year.

Crooked smiles indicate one of three things:

1. Smiling as a reaction to an uncomfortable situation. This is the embarrassed/uncertain smile to which Tierney refers. "The Bush"

2. Smiling not because it feels natural, but because the situation calls for it. In reaction to a greeting from someone you don't like, or a joke you don't find funny. "The Cheney"

3. Repressed glee. Otherwise known as smirking. "The War-Talkin' Bush"

Crooked smiles are usually easy to spot, since the smiler's entire face doesn't open up with the smile. And these smiles are all dishonest at some level. A good salesman can fake it, but the rest of us can't help ourselves. It's almost involuntary.

As for Carter: the guy was elected President, and is greatly respected worldwide, so he is among the elite. His smile is just his defining characteristic. If he happened to be fat, I guess his critics would associate fatness with weakness.

Posted by: PapaJijo | Feb 26, 2007 4:24:01 PM

Did you know that smiles, even fake smiles, improve your mood? I live in Germany and people rarely smile. I was teaching a German friend to use a biofeedback machine of mine. I told her to laugh, even a fake laugh and she got very angry at me.

There was a study here last year which said that Germans, in spite of their quality of life, are the most disatisfied, or unhappy, in Europe. Only 17% are content with their lives. Now the government is putting together "happiness task forces" to figure out why.

Posted by: Paula | Feb 26, 2007 4:33:01 PM

PapJijo, I love your analysis. "The Cheney"--yes!

Posted by: Korha | Feb 26, 2007 5:32:45 PM

It may be so, but I think that those who have the time to comment on the blogs of a kid fresh out of college betray a much lower social status.

Posted by: gregor | Feb 26, 2007 6:06:23 PM

I frequent a Korean restaurant where the only waitress smiles with one of those fake smiles you see when watching the children perform for foreigners in the films of North Korea. I believe it to be cultural.

It's unnerving.

I know she means well, but I wish for once that she wouldn't do that.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 27, 2007 8:01:03 AM

There was a study here last year which said that Germans, in spite of their quality of life, are the most disatisfied, or unhappy, in Europe. Only 17% are content with their lives. Now the government is putting together "happiness task forces" to figure out why.

Achtung! You hav smiled only six times in the last 15 minutes! This is below quota! You VILL Smile more often, so you vill be HAPPY! OR ELSE!

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Feb 27, 2007 12:51:55 PM

I smile. The other either likes it and is better disposed towards me, or finds it a "submission signal," which is equally fine with me. If some corporate idiot takes my kindness for weakness all the easier to stab him in the back.

Posted by: Bill Simian | Feb 27, 2007 3:17:43 PM

Celebrities have to smile. If they don't smile, it looks like they think they're too good for us. They are our entertainment. They aren't on top--they are totally beholden to us for everything they are. They are part of the service industry, just like a waitress or a stewardess. Their success is utterly dependent on good behavior.

Posted by: heresiarch | Feb 28, 2007 2:08:56 AM

This is completely unsupportable -- and makes no sense. Anyone who spends time with working-class and poor folks will tell you that there is a lot less smiling going on than amongst the better off.

Also: "Elite models" don't smile because smiling causes wrinkles; most football players suffer from chronic pain.

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Posted by: judy | Sep 26, 2007 11:37:31 AM

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