You are here

Have You Smiled Today?


As if you didn't already worry about your hair, your clothes, your weight—basically everything—you can now add your subconscious facial expressions to the list. Researchers studying the "boss" effect have discovered that when someone we feel outranks us in any way smiles, grimaces, looks worried, or appears angry, we mimic their facial expressions.

University of California in San Diego cognitive neuroscientist Evan Carr sorted 55 men and women into two groups: those who felt personally more powerful and those who felt less. He then showed them videos of people they were told held a high-ranking position, such as a physician, or a low-ranking job, such as a fast-food restaurant worker, while recording the involuntary movements of muscles involved in smiling.

Carr found that subjects mimicked facial expressions depending on how powerful the person they were watching was. And people who felt they were powerful themselves rarely return a high-ranking person's smile.

If you're having a hard time sifting through all of that information, here's the CliffsNotes: We're more apt to smile at people when we feel "low-ranking" than when we feel powerful. And when we start to feel more authoritative, we might smile less at other "high-ranking" folks in an attempt to seem competitive, Carr told the Wall Street Journal.

Although the study is interesting, it only included 55 individuals, so the results can't be generalized to the entire population. It also would have been intriguing to see what role gender plays. Numerous studies have shown that women are less likely to tell jokes at work and that men are perceived to be funnier, as well as that when situations get tense at work, women are more likely to try and smooth them over with a smile. Could it be possible that some of those socializations play a role in how we act toward others in the workplace?

What do you think of this study?


Add a comment