Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 577–587 | Cite as

All smiles perceived equally: Facial expressions trump target characteristics in impression formation

  • Nicole SenftEmail author
  • Yulia Chentsova-Dutton
  • George A. Patten
Original Paper


Race, gender, and emotionally expressive facial behavior have been associated with trait inferences in past research. However, it is unclear how interactions among these factors influence trait perceptions. In the current research, we test the roles of targets’ race, gender, and facial expression along with participants’ culture in predicting personality ratings. Caucasian and Asian-American participants rated the big-5 personality traits of either smiling or inexpressive photographs of Caucasian and Asian male and female faces. Ratings of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness differed significantly across inexpressive targets as a function of race and gender categorization and individual characteristics. Smiling was associated with reduced variation in perceptions of targets’ extraversion and agreeableness relative to ratings made of inexpressive targets. In addition, participant culture generally did not significantly impact trait ratings. Results suggest that emotionally expressive facial behavior reduces the use of information based on race or gender in forming impressions of interpersonally relevant traits.


Emotional expression Smiling Impression formation Culture 



We would like to thank Dr. Rusan Chen for his advice and assistance with the statistical methods used in this paper. We would also like to thank Alexandra Vaughn, Teddy Semon, and Kyla Machell for their help with data collection.

Complaince with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Nicole Senft, Yulia Chentsova Dutton, George A. Patten declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Senft
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yulia Chentsova-Dutton
    • 2
  • George A. Patten
    • 3
  1. 1.Georgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Georgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Tufts UniversityKitteryUSA

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