If you want to be cool‚ flash a smile

13 April 2018 - 15:27 By Claire Keeton
Image: 123rf/ Chanitkasem Sanguanwit

James Dean‚ Clint Eastwood‚ Michael Jordan‚ Kanye West‚ Marilyn Monroe and Emily Didonato are famous for their unsmiling or pouting portraits.

But a new study in the US shows that smiling faces are rated as more cool than inexpressive faces‚ contrary to common assumptions. Unsmiling faces tended to be seen as unfriendly.

Being inexpressive makes people seem unfriendly or cold rather than cool.

“For many people‚ one of the unspoken rules for being cool is maintaining an emotionally inexpressive attitude‚” said lead researcher Professor Caleb Warren‚ a marketing expert at the University of Arizona.

Celebs and fashion models follow this mantra. West has said he doesn’t smile in photos because “it just wouldn’t look as cool”.

To test the “connection between concealing emotions and coolness”‚ Warren and his team conducted experiments.

They showed participants adverts for a clothing brand featuring smiling and inexpressive celebs and non-celebs. The models included legends like James Dean‚ and Michael Jordan as well as unknown models‚ endorsing unfamiliar brands and well-known brands.

“We found over and over again that people are perceived to be cooler when they smile compared to when they are inexpressive in print advertisements‚” said Warren. “Being inexpressive makes people seem unfriendly or cold rather than cool.”

People may want to think about posting smiling pictures on social media rather than inexpressive ones‚ Warren advised.

He was surprised that participants preferred the smiling pictures of James Dean to his iconic inexpressive shots.

The one exception to the pro-smiling result was around competition. Unsmiling mixed martial arts fighters at a press conference were seen as “more cool and dominant” than smiling fighters.

But when they mingled with fans‚ smiling was viewed as cooler. Warren said: “This shows that being uncool or cool can depend on the context.

“This inaccurate belief about how to become cool can influence the way we communicate with others.”

He said coming across as inexpressive could lead to misunderstandings and harm relationships.