Smiling can have a profound effect on one's life, according to Dr. Gil Greengross, an evolutionary psychologist and anthropologist from the University of New Mexico, who writes in this week's edition of Psychology Today that a number of studies have indicated one's facial features may reflect the intensity of one's future happiness.
In an article entitled “What Your Facebook Picture Reveals About You,” Greengross reviewed two of the studies, one conducted a year ago and one just published, that use Facebook photos to determine a person's actual emotional status, present and future.
The first study, "Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Divorce Later," was conducted at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and published in April 2009 by Hertenstein, Hansel, Butts and Hile. The research team examined participants' positive expressive behavior in college yearbook photos in the first phase, and then a variety of participants' photos from childhood through early adulthood in phase two. In both studies, researchers said, they found divorce was predicted by the degree to which the subjects smiled in their photos.
In the second and most recent study, "Intensity of Smiling in Facebook Photos Predicts Future Life Satisfaction," researchers Seder and Oishi at the University of Virginia used Facebook photos to show how a picture of someone smiling at a young age could predict lower divorce rates later in life, and even a longer lifespan.
Researchers reported in their findings that smile intensity coded from a single Facebook profile photo taken during participants' first semester at college was a robust predictor of self-reported life satisfaction 3.5 years later, as they were about to graduate from college. In addition, the scientists reported that the results were not due to extraversion or to sex differences in smile intensity. They added that particiipants who showed a more intense smile in their Facebook photo had better social relationships during their first semester at college and that the association between smile intensity and life satisifaction 3.5 years later was partially mediated by first-semester social relationships satisfaction.
As Greengross explained, “Social media present a great opportunity to study these effects over shorter periods of time. People publish many pictures of themselves on sites such as Facebook that are easy to access. Moreover, previous studies used pictures that were formal, where people have to pose in front of a professional photographer. These pictures tend to evoke forced smiles that sometimes look awkward. On Facebook, people add their own pictures in more natural settings.”
The second study, published last month in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, surveyed 92 college students during their first semester at college who had a Facebook profile picture that could be coded for smile intensity and followed them for 3.5 years. In the end, 48 students - 20 males and 28 females - completed the full study.
Students completed a questionnaire at the end of the first semester to measure how satisfied they were with their lives and how happy they were with their social relationships. At the end of their final semester in college, researchers retrieved their most recent profile picture and the students again completed the life satisfaction scale.
“The results showed that, as in previous studies, women tended to smile more than men and with more intensity,” wrote Greengross. “For both sexes, smile intensity was correlated with the self-reported life satisfaction (at both points), and with social networks satisfaction. More importantly, even after controlling for how satisfied the students were after their first semester, smile intensity was a good predictor of changes in life satisfaction after 3.5 years.”
Greengross noted that the study “is yet another indication that smiling can have a profound effect on your life, and the more intense the smiling is, the better.”
He added that while it is not entirely clear from the study if smiling itself causes all these positive effects, studies have shown that if people are forced to smile, they feel happier and it changes their emotional state.
To read the full research, click here.