Gender Differences in Emotional Expression: Smiling

Previous blog posts have outlined dilemmas women face in being seen as competent yet  “likeable” in negotiations.

Deborah Gruenfeld

Deborah Gruenfeld

Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford and researcher Carol Kinsey Goman note that women can increase perceived authority. if they smile when situationally-appropriate instead of consistently.

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

They imply that observers assign different interpretations to women’s smiles than to men’s smiles.
Washington University in St. Louis’s
Simine Vazire teamed with Laura Naumann of University of California, Berkeley, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas to investigate gender differences in the meaning of smiling behavior.   

Jacob Miguel Vigil

Jacob Miguel Vigil

They drew on University of New Mexico professor Jacob Miguel Vigil‘s theory that emotional behaviors promote attraction and aversion, based on others’ perceived:

  • Power to provide resources or harm (dominant, masculine behaviors)
  • Trustworthiness to reciprocate altruism (submissive, feminine)
Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Vazire’s team reported that women’s smiles signal positive affect and warmth, which are seen as “trustworthiness cues” in Vigil’s model, and typically attract fewer, but closer relationships.
Gruenfeld and Goman argue that women’s smiling also signals low power in negotiation situations and interpersonal interactions.

Peter Rentfrow

Peter Rentfrow

In contrast, smiling among men indicates confidence and lack of self-doubt, seen as “capacity cues” to the ability to either help or hurt others.
These expressions usually attract numerous, but less-intimate relationships while
conveying a key element of power, self-assurance.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

Team Vazire’s research validated Gruenfeld’s and Goman’s hypothesis that observers interpreted women’s smiles differently than men’s, even if the underlying, subjective emotional experience is similar.

Their work supports  Gruenfeld’s and Goman’s recommendation that women balance smiling, a signal of interpersonal warmth, with powerful non-verbal behaviors to achieve best outcomes in negotiations and workplace performance.

-*How has smiling helped establish your warmth?
-*When has smiling undermined your credibility and power?

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©Kathryn Welds


2 thoughts on “Gender Differences in Emotional Expression: Smiling

    1. kathrynwelds Post author

      Thanks for sharing this blog post with Referher.
      Smiling can engage a negotiating partner by projecting warmth and approachability, but if used consistently, it can convey weakness.
      The research suggests consciously considering the social context, then selectively smiling when the conversational content warrants it.


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