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Gender Differences In Smiling Essay Research Paper

Gender Differences In Smiling Essay, Research Paper

Gender Differences in Smiling

For many years, gender and gender role differences have been extremely popular topics

of study in the psychological field. Everyone seems interested in knowing is there is any

truth to the popularized statement and book title, Women are from Venus, Men are from

Mars. Studies have found so many differences between men and women it leaves one

wondering in what areas are men and women alike. One nonverbal signal that appears

universal for men and women is smiling, but research shows that there are gender

differences within that behavior.

Kraut and Johnston (1999) define a smile as the major component of a facial display

associated with and caused by feelings of happiness or joy. Deutsch, LeBaron and Fryer

(1987) found that people who smile more often are viewed as carefree, warm, happy,

relaxed and polite. Mackey (1976) stated that a smile is a social signal that offers

reassurance, non-hostility or appeasement. Clearly researchers agree that a smile is

associated with positive feelings and emotions, so what is the difference between men and

women displaying this signal?

Halberstadt, Hayes and Pike (1988) offered the explanation that women smile more

than men because smiling is an important part of the nurturing, expressive role that is

socially appropriate for women to exhibit. They observed gender differences in smiling

during communication in a laboratory setting. They hypothesized that women would

smile more often than men during conversation. They found a significant difference

between the number of smiles per minute by women (mean = 3.93) and men (mean =


Deutsch, LeBaron and Fryer (1987) conducted a study in which participants rated

pictures of smiling and non-smiling men and women on their perceived personalities. As

expected, they found that smiling people were rated as more happy, more polite and

warmer than non-smiling people. They also found that non-smiling women were rated

harsher and as more unfriendly that non-smiling men. The results support previous studies

that suggest that women are socially expected to smile more than men and are viewed

more unfavorably if they do not exhibit the behavior.

Briton and Hall (1995) studied the differences between men and women and found that

men are typically believed to be more aggressive, noisy and dominant whereas women are

believed to be more gentle, emotional and sensitive to others needs. These perceptions are

accompanied by expected nonverbal behavior. Men are expected to fold their arms, make

occasional eye contact and dominate the conversation. Women are expected to touch,

smile, lean forward and be more submissive during conversations.

Most research studying gender differences in smiling have found similar results, that

women smile more often during verbal interaction than men. Other studies indicate that

this difference may occur because of the social expectations placed on men and women.

The purpose of the present study was to investigate, using a naturalistic observation, if

there are gender differences in smiling. Taking into consideration the results from

previous studies done on this topic, I hypothesized that females will smile more often than

men during verbal interaction.



Sixty-four participants were part of a convenient sample for this study. Thirty-three of

the participants were females and the remaining 31 were males. Estimated age of the

participants ranged from 16-51, with the average age being 26.1. There was no

discrimination of participants by age or race.


The naturalistic observation took place at Ruby Tuesday’s, The great American Cafe

and the food court, all located at the Madison Square Mall, on randomly chosen days and

times. The observer was seated in an obscure place that did not infringe on the

participants environment.


A data sheet was used to collect information that identified estimated age of

participant, gender of participant and frequency of smiles expressed in a five minute time

frame. It also noted the date and location of the observation.


The experimenter was seated at random places in the restaurants and the food court

and observed and recorded the frequency of smiles that occurred during a five minute time

frame. A smile was defined as a facial expression indicating pleasure, favor or amusement,

characterized by an upturning of the corners of the mouth. If the experimenter could not

clearly distinguish between a smile and a similar facial expression, such as a smirk, that

was not recorded or included in this observation.


Within a five and one-half hour time period, females expressed 1,937 smiles, with the

average number of smiles expressed by females in a five minute time frame being 11.73.

Males expressed 1,035 smiles within a five and one-half hour time period, with the

average number of smiles expressed in a five minute time frame being 6.67. Figure 1 and

Figure 2 indicate this data respectively.

A one-way Chi-squared was used to analyze the data. The results showed a significant

difference in the smiling behavior by women compared to men, X2 (1, N = 64) = 0.09,



The results of the present study indicate that females smile more often than men during

verbal interactions. This conclusion is consistent with the results from previous studies

and my hypothesis was supported with significant results. These results could have been

influenced by several factors that will be discussed in further detail.

Although there was a significant difference in the frequency of smiles expressed by

women versus men, I think that the results could be more powerful if duplicated using a

much larger sample size. Another possible reason for the difference in the frequency of

smiling is the influence of alcohol. Some of the participants were drinking alcoholic

beverages, which may have an affect on their attitude and corresponding behavior.

Another factor one must consider is the topic of the conversation. Mackey (1976) stated

that facial expressions are used to complement what one is expressing verbally. If the

participants are discussing happy, upbeat topics their facial expression will be different

than it would be when discussing serious or saddening topics. The mood of the

participant will also influence their facial expressions. When people are in good moods,

their facial expressions usually speak for themselves and this is also true for people that

are in bad moods. Finally, the weather can influence peoples’ nonverbal communication.

Kraut and Johnston (1979) found that pedestrians walking in pleasant weather are more

likely to smile than those walking in unpleasant weather.

The few studies that I found that observed smiling behavior raises important questions.

Why is a behavior that is looked upon favorably not expressed equally in women and men?

Is the idea that variations in nonverbal communication of men and women corresponds to

expected social roles correct? Is smiling an unconscious, reflexive behavior or can people

control when and when not to smile?

The differences in smiling between men and women has not been a popular topic of

exploration. There was a lack of substantial data pertaining to this topic. I think that it is

an interesting topic that deserves more attention in the social psychological field. This

study should be duplicated using a much larger sample size which will allow generalization

to the entire population.

Briton, N. J. & Hall, J. A. (1995). Beliefs about female and male nonverbal

communication. Sex Roles, 32, 79-91.

Deutsch, F. M., LeBaron, D., & Fryer, M. M. (1987). What is in a smile? Psychology

of Women Quarterly, 11, 341-352.

Halberstadt, A. G., Hayes, C. W., & Pike, K. M. (1988). Gender and gender role

differences in smiling and communication consistency. Sex Roles, 19, 589-604.

Kraut, R. E. & Johnston, R. E. (1979). Social and emotional messages of smiling: An

ethological approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1539-1553.

Mackey, W. C. (1976). Parameters of the smile as a social signal. The Journal of

Genetic Psychology, 129, 125-130.

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