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The hypnotic effect of smiling

Posted Jan 27 2009 8:05pm

The lovely people at my local radio station here in Yorkshire, Minster FM, asked me to go in and talk to them about a piece of research that suggests that 34% of York’s inhabitants are worried about the appearance of their teeth when they smile.

And if you are one of those people, I have some good news for you.

During the interview I talk about the ’spotlight effect’: the way in which, if we are feeling a little self-conscious about a particular body part, it tends to quite literally grow in size in our internal representation of it to ourselves.

In fact, in our minds it’s almost as if there’s a big spotlight beaming down and highlighting this perceived flaw, so that everyone around us must be staring at this huuuuge spot on our nose, or our e-nooormous bum, or our truly terrible teeth…

I remember that there was a famous piece of research carried out on the ’spotlight’ effect at a US college some years ago (right now, I cannot find the citation, so if anyone reading this has a reference for me, please do let me know). This piece of research asked a sample of college students to wear bright yellow T-shirts for a day whilst attending their lectures and generally moving around the college campus. The students needed some persuasion to do this (I think they may have been paid)  and they were convinced that their T-shirts were so conspicuous that everyone would notice. And yet, at the end of the day, the student body was surveyed and it was found that less than 2% of people had actually registered the T-shirts.

As Malcolm Gladwell writes in his famous book on the subject, Blink, we do make up our minds about how we feel about someone within the first few seconds of meeting them… but not in the way that you might expect. We are experts at picking up on very subtle non-verbal cues, noticing the ‘micoexpressions’ on a person’s face along with their bodily gestures, for example. And, indeed, smiles are very important.

In an earlier blog post last year, I wrote about some compelling research about the psychological effects of smiling. I am reproducing some of it here:

‘A scientific study suggests that we respond most positively to people who smile slowly, according to this report by Psyblog.

A group of 100 men and women were asked to watch synthetic faces
smiling in various different ways on a monitor and then make judgements
according to ‘how trustworthy, attractive, dominant, fake and flirtatious’ the smiles made the faces seem.

The slower or ‘long-onset smile’ (0.5 sec) was deemed to be most authentic and flirtatious.

Psyblog goes on to report:

On top of this, the researchers found
long-onset smiles were perceived as more attractive, more trustworthy
and less dominant. Head tilting also increased attractiveness and
trustworthiness but only if the head was tilted in the right direction.
In this case, the right direction was the same way as eye orientation
or towards a partner.

So there you go. If you want to instantly begin influencing those around you positively, slow down your smile and then tilt your head in the same direction that the person you are talking to is looking.’

Yes, so actually people are going to be subconsciously noticing and registering all kinds of subtle things about you before they even look at your teeth.

The head-tilting is a sign of empathising with someone’s point of view. It is related to the ‘mirroring and matching’ of bodily posture and gesture that so many people in the field of personal development talk about as a vital part of builidng hypnotic ‘rapport’ with someone.

When someone senses that you are intereste din them and what they are saying, they are not going to be thinking aout your teeth.

Even if your teeth are less than perfect (in your personal opinion), if you feel confident, you will project confidence. Just think about Barbara Streisand’s nose! Did that ever hold her back in her life and career?

I am wishing you a wonderful weekend full of smiles and laughter. See you back here on Monday.

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