Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to Be Hot: Women Should Smile More, Men Less

Women should look friendly and approachable to get the most favorable attraction response from the opposite sex, and men should look proud. That's the clear finding of a new study: Happy Guys Finish Last: The Impact of Emotion Expressions on Sexual Attraction that takes a look at exactly which emotional expressions appeal to each sex. The study examined the relative sexual attractiveness of individuals showing pride, shame and happiness.

The researchers began by noting that showing a happy, smiling face is considered essential to social interaction. But no one had ever studied the impact of a smiling face on sexual attraction. In this study as in so many other recent research, women and men were proven to be profoundly different based on evolutionary adaptations. Women like men who look proud, and men like women who look happy. In addition, women dislike smiling men, and men dislike proud looking women.

All three emotions are universal across cultures, which indicates evolutionary origins. In general:


  • Conveys high status


  • Signals low status
  • Sign of appeasement for having violated a social norm


  • Communicates friendliness and approachability
  • Elicits trust and approach-oriented behaviors in onlookers

What Women Find Sexually Attractive

1. Pride

"The pride expression may convey heightened masculinity; its prototypical behavioral components of expanded chest and generally large appearance are notably male features, and similar features, such as upper-body strength, have been found to increase masculinity and male attractiveness."

2. Shame

"Given that gender norms cannot account for the attractiveness of male shame (the low-status/high social-sensitivity signal is gender atypical), shame’s communication of trustworthiness and group commitment may be what accounts for its relative attractiveness in men. The expression’s costliness (its low-status signal could endanger expressers) may simultaneously indicate its sincerity, leading women to place greater trust in men who show shame than, perhaps, those who show happiness.

Also, if either women or men interpreted shame displays as conveying sadness, and thus indicating an individual’s need for comfort and support, they may have found them attractive for this reason, given previous research suggesting that sympathy breeds attraction."

Finally, young women actually preferred male expressions of shame to happiness, possibly because a shame expression often signals "troublemaker," a type younger women are more susceptible to than women over 30.

3. Happiness

Happiness appears to convey femininity and low dominance to both sexes. It also indicates sexual receptivity, something men should not need to communicate:

"The friendliness signal sent by happy displays may also be relevant; if this message is taken to indicate sexual receptivity, it would increase women’s mate value, but potentially decrease men’s. If male sexual receptivity is, to some extent, taken for granted, a social communication along these lines may indicate neediness or desperation."

Most importantly, a high-status man is likely to be a better provider than a friendly and approachable man.

What Men Find Sexually Attractive

1. Happiness

"A friendly woman is likely to be more sexually receptive than a high status woman. Men find appeasement in a woman more appealing than pride.

Indeed, perhaps because women are known to smile (the key behavioral component of the happy display) more frequently than men, happy displays have been associated with femininity."

2. Shame

"Shame’s low-status and submission connotations increase its apparent femininity, and thus the attractiveness of shame-displaying women. The positive impact of shame displays on female attractiveness also may be due to shame’s signaling of the expresser’s respect for social norms and her awareness that she has violated them. This appeasement message may indicate trustworthiness, a trait previously found to increase attractiveness when conveyed by facial expressions.

3. Pride

"From an evolutionary perspective, the mate value of a high-status woman is more ambiguous. Though a woman high in status may be well equipped to attain resources for her partner and children, previous research suggests that men evolved to seek female partners who were best equipped to bear and raise children, but not necessarily to support them."

Unsurprisingly, men were deemed less attractive overall than women were, in line with previous findings that women are harsher judges of the opposite sex.

Overall, the findings reinforce both evolutionary theories and gender norms. It won't make the "gender as a social construct" folks happy, but then, they have very little reason to cheer these days. Virtually all recent academic studies confirm the evolutionary and genetic basis of gender differences.

" also consistent with socio-cultural gender norms which, in many cultures, require that women appear submissive and vulnerable, and men dominant and confident. Individuals whose behavior and appearance is consistent with these gender norms tend to be considered most attractive, so a proud man and happy woman may be valued for reasons of gender-norm consistency, as well as for their potentially high mate value."

I am not suggesting that women be submissive and vulnerable, only that it is strategically advantageous for them to appear so. Perhaps women need to learn to compartmentalize their behavior. What works at the office has no place in the bedroom, and vice versa.

The research was conducted using photographs, leading to the question of whether these findings might hold true in real life.

"Given the importance of first impressions, and the frequency with which potential partners meet via a single photo (e.g., on social networking/dating websites), these findings provide new insight to our understanding of why certain people successfully attract others, why others do not, and how individuals seeking a mate should regulate their emotions. Smiles tend to be socially appropriate across many situations, but there are contexts in which the appearance of sexual attractiveness is valued over social correctness. The present results suggest that men may need to choose between these competing social goals, but women do not."

Again, I would not suggest that men find reasons to brood or behave in an anti-social manner. However, it may benefit a male to smile judiciously at first, perhaps using a smile to indicate that a woman is pleasing him once he has established dominance. Maybe this is the real reason for the curse of the nice guy - too much affability up front, as demonstrated by smiling, signals low status and too strong a desire to please.

Coincidentally, the LA Times recently ran an article featuring the finding of those whiz kids who write the OKCupid blog, and their analysis of user data confirms the study's findings:

The advice:
Women, flirt with the camera for your profile photo. Men, try giving it a cold shoulder.

The reasoning:
Compared with women looking away from the camera, those who smiled or made what OkCupid analysts called a "flirty-face" tended to get about 1.5 additional new messages a month. But men who tried an aloof, no-eye-contact strategy got a better response to their emails — about 90% success compared with 60% if they made eye contact in their photos. From the blog: "Maybe women want a little mystery. What is he looking at?"

Our scientists say: "We and other researchers have documented that men interpret a woman's smile as a signal of sexual interest," Buss says. "So flirty smiles trigger what we call men's 'sexual over-perception bias.'" Or, as McCord puts it, "Flirting works. Duh."

But only for women, not men. "There is good evidence that men high in status smile less and that smiling is sometimes interpreted as a sign of submissiveness. Also, some male smiles can look like leers, so it's good to avoid those," Buss says.

That doesn't mean men should play aloof in person. McCord adds, "Looking into the distance draws the women in — but as the negotiation continues, kindness and generosity will begin to play a bigger role."

Go forth and smile, or not, according to your evolutionary blueprint.


Tigger4Christ said...

Ok, this post makes a lot of sense. It is frustrating evidence of how I had the alpha beat out of me, and now I'm just a dancing Gamma.

When I was young (pre-teen) everyone always said how "serious" I looked. I smiled sometimes, but in general, had a grave mein.

In fact, when I did smile, my sisters would viciously attack, saying I looked "fake". A couple years ago I consciously started smiling a lot. As my default mechanism. A few years later, and people STILL tell me it looks fake. It has improved my social interactions a lot, but slaughtered my sexual attraction.

Perhaps when I smile, people suspect I am a delusional Gamma who thinks he is superior to them, and is really laughing at them, not with them. Yohami?

Vox said...

It's funny that you posted this, Susan. Spacebunny read it the other day and commented "That explains why so many women like you, considering how you're brooding all the time."

Some have hinted that I might possibly exhibit a few signs of potential arrogance on occasion as well. Brooding and arrogant... it would appear I am chick crack.

Anonymous said...

Vox: "Some have hinted that I might possibly exhibit a few signs of potential arrogance on occasion as well."

subtlety ftw

Susan Walsh said...

It has improved my social interactions a lot, but slaughtered my sexual attraction.

Then you need to learn when to deploy the smile. I'd say if you have to make a conscious decision to smile, it will always read as fake to women. So when you're with an attractive woman, fall back on your natural gravitas. Smile when you feel genuinely inspired to do so. Your natural demeanor could probably serve you well here.

Yes, brooding and arrogance is a winning combination. A touch of vulnerability, shown on rare occasions, completes the profile that makes women swoon. Edward Cullen in Twilight is the most obvious example, but literature and films have many characters with this prototype.

Tigger4Christ said...


Miss Walsh, you are right, I need some mastery of when to deploy the smile. Perhaps take some acting classes?

But, I do often feel like smiling. I'm naturally happy, and see a lot of humor in life.

I've been told that most people are so depressed and unhappy, that when they meet someone who is genuinely happy, they resent it, and assume it is fake. Now, they might be right. Because *I* don't think my smile is fake.

Another friend said that by smiling too readily I seem "over-eager". Which is definitely a Gamma trait. Being too quick to accomodate. Therefore, it is a DLV.

Whatever the cause, this problem has persisted since my teens. Maybe I do need acting classes. I hate being shot down for my desire to let people in on the big joke that is life.

Tigger4Christ said...

And no, I don't consciously decide to smile. It is automatic. I decided to make it my default a few years ago when I heard that I don't smile ENOUGH. Also I'd heard from some Tony Robins type figure that if you put on a certain face, your mindset will adjust, and it will become true. Which is pretty much the "fake it until you make it" concept. Except this article today brings into focus that I was off on a rabbit trail for the past 5 years. :( Five years of trying to internalize the smile as a mindset, and I still get told I look "fake". So that "fake it until you make it" stuff is BUNK.

Susan Walsh said...

Actually, it's well documented that the physical act of smiling, even when you don't feel like it, will improve your mood and make you feel happier. So there is some validity to "fake it till you make it." Indeed, Game includes quite a lot of that too. Inner Game takes a long time to cultivate, but there are behaviors which, when adopted, will produce a desirable result. Doing them often enough makes them second nature. It's the same principle at work as the smiling when you don't feel like it. Plus there's some thought that you can rewire thinking this way - smiling changes brain activity. Maybe Game does too.

Tigger4Christ said...

Well, in that case, smiling as a default did work. I feel pretty happy all the time. Which seems to bring down a shitstorm from all the people around me who don't feel happy. I don't have the strength (yet) to have infectious happiness.

Anonymous said...

T4C, don't learn to not smile, learn to smirk. Naturally.

How? Start spotting the irony in things. Learn Shadenfraude. When you see an obese person chowing down, kindly offer them your desert. When you see someone - especially someone you don't like - futilely pursuing something that you know just cannot work, encourage them. Before long the world will become your personal comic strip, and your occasional smirk will become both natural and irresistible.

Tigger4Christ said...

Anonymous, I do smirk a lot. I have such a huge ego you couldn't believe it. I need to learn to turn it off. I'm like a cock-blocker magnet. The story of my life is drawing heat from alphas and white-knighting betas. This Gamma needs discretion.

Vox said I'm a Gamma; it must be true; Gammas do Alpha things, but get the shit beaten out of them for it. They aren't smart enough to be Betas and Deltas, who reign in their impulses to match their strength levels. Alphas know how to pick their battles. Gammas are just "on" all the time. Or is that an Omega?

Believe me, the world has been my personal comic strip for quite a while. Hasn't made me any friends or lovers. Remember the Illuminatus Trilogy, but the late Robert Anton Wilson? It was quite a transformative experience.

Vox said...

It's not so much that Gammas are on all the time as that they are deluded all the time. They may have large egos, but the egotism is misplaced. As with looks, men and women alike tend to find behavioral asymmetry to be off-putting.

My question to you upon what is your outsized ego founded? And is that foundation something that other people have the opportunity to recognize on a casual basis?

No one minds if Tom Brady, with Giselle on his arm, swaggers up to the velvet rope and expects it to be moved aside. But a random, short, balding guy in his mid-thirties is going to have to give the audience some reason to justify his behaving in exactly the same way.

Stickwick said...

This explains why Les Grossman is the only appealing male in Tropic Thunder despite the fact that he is by far the ugliest.

The LP 999/Linda said...

Smiles! Me likey! Now if only men would tell more jokes...

I tend to overlook the cold shoulder. It could be a lack of interest, aloofness, introvert-ism or a bad day.

The LP 999/Linda said...

A bit of projection on my part. I'll have to fix my comment.

Susan Walsh said...

Young women have a phrase they use quite a bit when discussing the appeal of certain men amongst themselves: Sexy Ugly.

The two are not mutually exclusive at all.

Anonymous said...

Men don't like women who are brooding, mysterious, aloof, and arrogant, even though our culture allows it. By all no means, it's an invitation to rape her. But then smiling women are seen as slutty while smiling men are not.

Anonymous said...


I don't think that Gamas get beaten into place for trying Alpha stuff, I think that everyone is tested for their authority. I have had a lot of personal experiences where I will feel very confident one day and act Alpha, and that is when I get the most challenges from both sexes. From women I get a lot of sarcastic put downs that they like to cover up with giggles and looking away, and from men I get a lot of eye contact and sometimes even get challenged to fight. You can respond by either being overly friendly and smiling, like my brother who gets no respect or women does, or you get stressed out beat yourself up and can't respond to the social challenge so people know you are insecure and unfit to be treated as an Alpha, OR their antics don't bother you and don't cause you the least bit of stress/anxiety/worry and you respond in a calm unshaken manner that usually earns you the respect.

I really like this article because people are always telling me to smile more, and that I give off a vibe of superiority or arrogance, but it's just natural for me. I don't act cocky on purpose, but the older I get and the more secure I become the more I realize I don't need other people's approval. When I leave a party I don't say bye to anyone and it doesn't even phase me when people forget to say hi or acknoledge me. I figure that I'm just becoming more comfortable with myself, so other people's opinions or actions are less offensive to me. It's all part of becoming an "alpha."

Anonymous said...

Apparently, guys in their 20s want troublemakers too, compared to guys in their 30s.

Arrogant girls are hot said...

Guys love girls that don't smile and are proud and bitchy looking. While guys should smile more. Guys love mysterious bitches but find out a mysterious girl is a cheating girl slut.

Dr. Arun Narang said...

A smile is a common, non-verbal, way of interacting with other people. It's quite amazing that you're able to say a thousand word with just one smile. And with it, you may even find the one that you'd wanna spend the rest of your life with. But of course, you can have the most attractive smile if you regularly visit your dentist.


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