PSY323-Social smiling

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Social smiling is a behavior of an emotional experience that all humans possess starting at about six to eight weeks of age and is done so by reciprocating smiles with one another (Messinger et al., 2002; Wolff, 1987). When a parent exchanges these smiles with a newborn, it is not long after that a child commences to do the same in return by exchanging a grin (Jones, 2008; Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Social smiling is known as a universal expression and has carried the same meaning in various cultures with the exception for those with severe damage to the central nervous system (Ekman, 1973). Social smiling is an essential expression with a basic function, substantial differences between infants and adults, differences in types of smiles, and gender differences that is widely used on a day-to-day basis as humans socialize and interact with each other.

Social smiling is an innate behavior all human beings possess and similar to emotions has a basic function (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Newborns display a smile-like expression when they are relaxed (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). This smile is an expression of a positive emotion, but is not connected to a social interaction, therefore it is not a smile (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Kalat & Shiota (2007) stated, it is not until about six weeks of age, when “suddenly the infant responds to other people’s smiles by grinning in return” (p. 78). Parents have a tendency to interact and play more with their infant when he or she reciprocates a smile (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). This interaction and behavior between the infant and adult is vital for further cognitive and social development of the infant (Bower, 1977).

There exist tangible differences in smiling between infants and adults. A smile cannot be socially construed as a social behavior when an infant is in his or her sleep or drowsy (Emde, Gainsbauer, & Harmon, 1976; Messinger et al., 2002; Wolff, 1963). At around six weeks of life and thereafter, the infant will smile to a variety of human and non-human objects, but will not be able to categorize or distinguish the differences between them (Jones, 2008). For example, the infant would smile at a simple toy the same way he or she would smile at a parent (Wolff, 1963).

Smiling in adults, however, has been universally associated as an expression of happiness and associated with feelings of joy (Jones, 2008). As Jones (2008) stated, many people are taught to smile politely in specific encounters, and a few cultures support smiling in public, but in general, smiles seem to be generated as “emotionally neutral social responses” (p. 350). In other words, smiling development has been linked to the positive emotions that cause “reflex-like” smiling in newborns and the socially controlled and willful smile as witnessed among adults (Jones, 2008).

Researchers studying facial expressions have found there are two types of smiles in adults, Duchenne and Non-Duchenne smile (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). The Duchenne smile, is known as the true, genuine expression of happiness with physical characteristics of raised cheeks, squinting in the corner of the eyes and a smiling mouth (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). The other smile is simply not expressing a Duchenne smile but rather a fake, voluntary smile (Non-Duchenne) (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Although this voluntary smile is sometimes seen as false, it does not mean the person is not happy or the expression is not an honest one (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). These differences are particularly seen more between men and women, as women smile more than men do and are expected to smile and be friendlier even when they are not content (La France, Hecht, & Paluck, 2003).

Various studies of gender differences in smiling have concluded women have a tendency to smile more often than their male counterpart under natural and experimental circumstances (Ellis, 2006). A study revealed women who were being photographed demonstrated a greater interest to smile than did men (Ellis, 2006). According to Ellis (2006), one theory that has evolved is, “due to the differential exposure to sex hormone regimens throughout life, the brain of males have evolved tendencies to exhibit social smiling to a lesser degree than the brains of females and that evolutionary forces are responsible for the difference” (p. 303). In addition, it is socially more acceptable and preferred that a woman smile more than a man (Ellis, 2006).

Example – Research

As an example of social smiling, in respect to Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiling, Berstein et al., (2010) investigated the perceptions and willingness of individuals to work with others who displayed genuine versus fake smiles. The research question was, would individuals especially those who have been rejected, have a preference in working with those who displayed a Duchenne smile, versus the non-Duchenne smile. The hypothesis was, under the experimental circumstances and using both Williams (2007) basic needs models (belonging, self-esteem and control, meaningful existence) in relation to those rejected participants, would strongly prefer to work with individuals who express a real smile rather than a deceptive smile. In other words, the hypothesis stated all participants, especially those who were evaluated under basic needs model and were categorized as socially rejected, preferred to work with individuals who exhibited a Duchenne smile versus a non-Duchenne smile. The methodology consisted of participants being randomly assigned to three different experimental groups (exclusion, inclusion, or control) by two (smile: Duchenne, non-Duchenne) model design and watching twenty different videos of men and women exhibiting various expressions (real vs. deceptive smiles). The operationalization of this study was having all participants write an essay about a time they felt rejected or accepted and then responding to a series of questions evaluating their levels of self-esteem, belonging, meaningful existence, and control prior to viewing the videos (Berstein et. al, 2010). Prior to watching the videos, participants were informed to imagine whom they would potentially prefer to work with in a future project. After viewing the videos, participants filled out a Likert-scale (1= not at all; 7= very much) of how much they would like to work with the individuals in each of the videos. The results of the study research validated participants preferred working with those who displayed a Duchenne rather than non-Duchenne smile. The cause was qualified by the integration between the smile and social experience. Participants in both the controlled condition and inclusion condition similarly demonstrated a preference to work with individuals who displayed a Duchenne versus non-Duchenne smile, and those participants in the exclusion group, significantly preferred to work with those who displayed a Duchenne versus non-Duchenne smiles. The research study hypothesis proved to be accurate especially with rejected individuals who significantly preferred to work with those who exhibited real smiles rather than deceptive smiles. The implications and importance of this study research was to find out if those individuals who had been socially rejected, would have a stronger preference to work with individuals who demonstrated a genuine smile versus a deceptive smile.

Example – Real Life

There are several videos one can find online that relate to the “Fish” philosophy. Many businesses and corporations have integrated John Christensen’s (founder) philosophy in hopes to create a happier, more pleasant, and productive work environment. I personally have seen this video that was shown to me at a previous job and at my current employment. This video was shot in Seattle’s Pike Fish Market, where all employees exhibited a positive, happy, motivated attitude, which permeated through the air and was transferred to all customers upon their arrival. Smiling is an innate and universal behavior that all people genuinely express when they are happy or filled with joy (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). It is always a pleasant feeling to be among people who are positive and happy rather than negative and bitter. All employees at Pike’s Fish Market exude this positive attitude that is accompanied by a smile. When customers were greeted with a happy attitude and a smile, the interaction between the customer and employee was positively reinforced. All customers enjoyed how they were greeted, entertained, and taken care of. It was as if these employees had an infectious addiction of happiness and smiling; everyone who encountered this experience left with a happy smile. I personally went to visit Pike’s Fish Market in 2005 when mobilizing at Ft. Lewis for a military deployment. Since I had already seen this video, I was intrigued to check this place out. To my surprise, what I saw in the video was exactly what I subjectively encountered and experienced. People were socially interacting amongst each other and all customers, employees and bystanders genuinely expressed a happy smile. I remember being there and thinking, “man, these people are really passionate and love what they do.” I was pleasantly flabbergasted. With this and many other first-lived encounters, I have been able to distinguish between a genuine smile, which is accompanied by certain facial characteristics (as previously stated) and a counterfeited smile, which is known as the typical commercial smile.


Berstein, M.J., Sacco, D.F., Brown, C.M., Young, S.G., & Claypool, H.M. (2010). A preference for genuine smiles following social exclusion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 196-199.

Bower, T.G.R. (1977). A primer of infant development. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.

Ekman, P. (1973). Darwin and facial expression. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Ellis, L. (2006) Gender differences in smiling: an evolutionary neuroandrogenic theory. Physiology & Behavior, 88, 303-308.

Emde, R.N., Katz, E.L., & Thorpe, J.K. (1978). Emotional expression in infancy: II. Early deviations in Down’s Syndrome. In M. Lewis & L.A. Rosenblum (Eds.), The development of affect (pp. 351-360). New York: Plenum.

Jones, S. (2008). Nature and nurture in the development of social smiling. Philosophical Psychology, 21(3), 349-357.

Kalat, J.W., & Shiota, M.N. (2007). Emotion. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

LaFrance, M., Hecht, M.A. & Paluck, E.L. (2003). The contingent smile: A meta-analysis of sex differences in smiling. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 305-334.

Messinger, D.S., Dondi, M., Nelson-Goens, G.C., Beghi, A., Fogel, A., & Simion, F. (2002). How sleeping neonates smile. Developmental Science, 5, 48-54.

Williams, K.D. (2007). Ostracism. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 425-452.

Wolff, P. (1963). Observations on the early development of smiling. In B.M. Foss (Ed.), Determinants of infant behavior (Vol. 2, pp. 113-138). New York: John Wiley.

Wolff, P.H. (1987). The development of behavioral states and the expressions of emotions in early infancy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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