According to a recent study by researchers from Queen's University Belfast and the University of Michigan, the nuances of smiling play a crucial role in social interactions, particularly in terms of trust and cooperation. Published in the journal Cognition and Emotion, the study delves into how different types of smiles can influence people’s perceptions and willingness to collaborate.
The researchers identified three distinct types of smiles: reward, dominance, and affiliation. Each type elicits unique responses and has a profound impact on social exchanges. The 'reward smile' is akin to a child’s broad grin upon receiving a treat, while the 'dominance smile' resembles a smirk, often interpreted as a sign of superiority. The 'affiliation smile,' on the other hand, carries a sense of regret or empathy, similar to the expression one might have when consoling a friend.
In the study, participants engaged in various economic games that hinged on trust to generate value. Initially, the subjects exhibited uncooperative behavior, which eroded trust among the participants. The turning point in perceptions came with the type of smile displayed by their partner at the end of each game. Findings revealed that the 'reward' and 'dominance' smiles generally failed to rebuild trust or alter expectations of future behavior positively. These smiles were less effective than a neutral expression or a look of regret. Conversely, the 'affiliation smile' seemed to encourage a desire to mend the relationship and re-establish trust.
Dr. Magdalena Rychlowska, who led the research at Queen’s University, underscored the importance of contextualizing smiles. She noted that smiles in negative contexts, such as those often portrayed by movie villains, could be perceived as threatening and unpleasant.
This research sheds light on the complexity of facial expressions in social situations, emphasizing their significant impact on trust and cooperation. Such insights can enhance mental health and well-being by improving interpersonal relationships and social interactions, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, which focuses on good health and well-being.