Winning Smiles Of Smiling Losers

Smile q

Nice smile. Toothy. Kind’a disarming. Sort’a stupid. Lots of facial muscles are involved to form this smile. Brain have succeeded to express the way it feels: I’m happy, harmless, have decent set of teeth, perhaps I look a bit idiotic…

Smile. Happy, sweet, shy, amused, thoughtful, satisfied, sexy, proud, contended, knowing, patronizing — the whole range of emotions — from a slight twitch of lips to emotional incontinence of the pseudobulbar affect.


But we aren’t talking about deviant behavior here. And neither the authors of A Winning Smile? Smile Intensity, Physical Dominance, and Fighter Performance (Emotion, Vol 13(2), Apr 2013). Without a smile or a wink, they examine smile as a sign of physical dominance and reduced aggression.

In one study it was  found that professional fighters who smiled more in a pre-fight photograph taken facing their opponent performed more poorly during the fight in relation to their less intensely smiling counterparts.

Pic by Bob Strong Reuters

Guess who was smiling more intensely in pre-fight handshake.

In other study, untrained people watched expressions on the faces of two anonymous fighters. When the fighter was smiling he was judged by the observers as less hostile and aggressive, and thereby less physically dominant. When the same fighter’s expression was neutral, the observers found him more physically dominant.

In both cases, smiles are associated with decreased physical dominance. The more intense a “pre-fight” smile  — the less intimidating the fighter seems to his opponent. Prior to a physical confrontation, it is reasoned, that alone has an ultimate effect on the outcome of a fight,  influencing both fighters — the smiling one and the one perceiving  the opponent’s smile.


In a word, should you show your perfect dental work to your opponent if you plan to punch his teeth out? Would it be to your advantage? Or else, if he bares his gleaming choppers in a smile before the battle, should you take it as a sign of strength or weakness? 

What about fake smile then? Given the competitive nature of most sports, psychological games are quite common among sportsmen. Authors recognize this phenomenon too:

It is also interesting to speculate regarding the intentional nature of the fighter smiles prior to the physical confrontation. It might be that fighters smiled on purpose to signal their pride and confidence, given that small smiles are part of a larger expression of pride…

Another possibility is that fighters intentionally smiled to appease their opponent, and were thus smiling in the hope that their opponent would behave less aggressively during the actual fight.

Exactly! Be smart! Deceive! Arrange  your facial muscles  into a “lesser hostility” type of a smile, cleverly use your opponent’s momentary confusion and go for a kill.

Anger management. Team Work

She didn’t smile. Very fortunate for him: he perceived her hostility and aggression in time to avoid a contact with a flying object.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby had an irresistible smile that “assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”


Want to be powerful? Study says don’t smile is another interesting study of smiles or absence of them. The title says it all.

Smile, obviously, isn’t just a laughing matter. Of  all facial expression of emotions, it is the most widely studied subject of scientific, near-scientific and far-from-scientific research.

Smile! Or don’t…


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