Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    To more fully test the effects of participant culture, we also ran the analyses above using a dichotomous score reflecting high and low levels of American cultural orientation (GEQ-A) for each group instead of participants’ self-reported cultural background. This analysis did not change the pattern of results from that reported below. We also ran the analyses above in a sample restricted to Asian participants which tested whether orientations towards their native cultures predicted trait ratings. In this case, effects on agreeableness ratings reported in text as significant were reduced to marginal significance. However, the overall pattern remained comparable to those reported in the main text, signifying that this may be a result of underpowered analyses rather than true cultural difference.

References

  1. Adler, P. A., Kless, S. J., & Adler, P. (1992). Socialization to gender roles: Popularity among elementary school boys and girls. Sociology of Education, 65, 169. doi:10.2307/2112807.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Albright, L., Kenny, D. A., & Malloy, T. E. (1988). Consensus in personality judgments at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 387–395. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.55.3.387.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Albright, L., Malloy, T. E., Dong, Q., Kenny, D. A., Fang, X., Winquist, L., & Yu, D. (1997). Cross-cultural consensus in personality judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 558–569. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.72.3.558.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Ambadar, Z., Cohn, J. F., & Reed, L. I. (2009). All smiles are not created equal: Morphology and timing of smiles perceived as amused, polite, and embarrassed/nervous. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 33, 17–34.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  5. Ambady, N., & Rosenthal, R. (1992). Thin slices of expressive behavior as predictors of interpersonal consequences: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 256–274. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.111.2.256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Borkenau, P., & Liebler, A. (1992). Trait inferences: Sources of validity at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 645–657. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.62.4.645.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Branscombe, N. R., & Smith, E. R. (1990). Gender and racial stereotypes in impression formation and social decision-making processes. Sex Roles, 22, 627–647. doi:10.1007/BF00288239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Chen, M., & Bargh, J. A. (1997). Nonconscious behavioral confirmation processes: The self-fulfilling consequences of automatic stereotype activation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 541–560. doi:10.1006/jesp.1997.1329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Choi, I., Dalal, R., Kim-Prieto, C., & Park, H. (2003). Culture and judgement of causal relevance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 46–59.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Condry, J., & Condry, S. (1976). Sex differences: A study of the eye of the beholder. Child Development, 47, 812. doi:10.2307/1128199.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Darley, J. M., & Fazio, R. H. (1980). Expectancy confirmation processes arising in the social interaction sequence. American Psychologist, 35, 867–881. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.35.10.867.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Dietz, T. L. (1998). An examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games: Implications for gender socialization and aggressive behavior. Sex Roles, 38, 425–442. doi:10.1023/A:1018709905920.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but…: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 878–902.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Fiske, S. T., & Neuberg, S. L. (1990). A continuum of impression formation, from category-based to individuating processes: Influences of information and motivation on attention and interpretation. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 23, 1–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The ambivalent sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491–512. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.3.491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B, Jr. (2003). A very brief measure of the big-five personality domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504–528. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(03)00046-1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hareli, S., Shomrat, N., & Hess, U. (2009). Emotional versus neutral expressions and perceptions of social dominance and submissiveness. Emotion, 9, 378–384. doi:10.1037/a0015958.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Hassin, R., & Trope, Y. (2000). Facing faces: Studies on the cognitive aspects of physiognomy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 837–852. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.78.5.837.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Hess, U., Adams, R., & Kleck, R. (2005). Who may frown and who should smile? Dominance, affiliation, and the display of happiness and anger. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 515–536. doi:10.1080/02699930441000364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hess, U., Beaupré, M. G., & Cheung, N. (2002). Who to whom and why? Cultural differences and similarities in the function of smiles. In M. Abel (Ed.), An empirical reflection on the smile (pp. 187–216). Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hess, U., Blairy, S., & Kleck, R. E. (2000). The influence of facial emotion displays, gender, and ethnicity on judgments of dominance and affiliation. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24, 265–283. doi:10.1023/A:1006623213355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hess, U., & Thibault, P. (2009). Why the same expression may not mean the same when shown on different faces or seen by different people. In D. J. Tao & T. Tan (Eds.), Affective information processing (pp. 145–158). London: Springer. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/chapter/10.1007/978-1-84800-306-4_9.

  24. Hughes, D., Rodriguez, J., Smith, E. P., Johnson, D. J., Stevenson, H. C., & Spicer, P. (2006). Parents’ ethnic-racial socialization practices: A review of research and directions for future study. Developmental Psychology, 42, 747–770. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.5.747.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Kim, B. S. K., Atkinson, D. R., & Yang, P. H. (1999). The asian values scale: Development, factor analysis, validation, and reliability. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46, 342–352. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.46.3.342.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Knowles, E. D., Morris, M. W., Chiu, C. Y., & Hong, Y. Y. (2001). Culture and the process of person perception: Evidence for automaticity among East Asians in correcting for situational influences on behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1344–1356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Knutson, B. (1996). Facial expressions of emotion influence interpersonal trait inferences. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 20, 165–182. doi:10.1007/BF02281954.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Kunda, Z., & Thagard, P. (1996). Forming impressions from stereotypes, traits, and behaviors: A parallel-constraint-satisfaction theory. Psychological Review, 103, 284–308. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.2.284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. LaFrance, M., & Hecht, M. A. (1995). Why smiles generate leniency. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 207–214. doi:10.1177/0146167295213002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lill, M. M., & Wilkinson, T. J. (2005). Judging a book by its cover: Descriptive survey of patients’ preferences for doctors’ appearance and mode of address. British Medical Journal, 331, 1524–1527.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. Lin, M. H., Kwan, V. S. Y., Cheung, A., & Fiske, S. T. (2005). Stereotype content model explains prejudice for an envied outgroup: Scale of anti-Asian American stereotypes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 34–47. doi:10.1177/0146167204271320.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Locksley, A., Borgida, E., Brekke, N., & Hepburn, C. (1980). Sex stereotypes and social judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 821–831.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224–253. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.98.2.224.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Marsh, A. A., Elfenbein, H. A., & Ambady, N. (2003). Nonverbal “accents”: Cultural differences in facial expressions of emotion. Psychological Science, 14, 373–376.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Martin, D., & Macrae, C. N. (2007). A face with a cue: Exploring the inevitability of person categorization. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 806–816. doi:10.1002/ejsp.445.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Matsumoto, D. (1990). Cultural similarities and differences in display rules. Motivation and Emotion, 14, 195–214. doi:10.1007/BF00995569.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Matsumoto, D. (1993). Ethnic differences in affect intensity, emotion judgments, display rule attitudes, and self-reported emotional expression in an American sample. Motivation and Emotion, 17, 107–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Matsumoto, D., & Ekman, P. (1988). Japanese and Caucasian facial expressions of emotion and neutral faces (JACFEE and JACNeuF). San Francisco: Human Interaction Laboratory, University of California. 401.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Matsumoto, D., & Kudoh, T. (1993). American-Japanese cultural differences in attributions of personality based on smiles. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 17, 231–243. doi:10.1007/BF00987239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Matsumoto, D., Yoo, S. H., & Fontaine, J. (2008). Mapping expressive differences around the world the relationship between emotional display rules and individualism versus collectivism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 39, 55–74. doi:10.1177/0022022107311854.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Miyamoto, Y., & Kitayama, S. (2002). Cultural variation in correspondence bias: The critical role of attitude diagnosticity of socially constrained behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1239–1248.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. Mok, T. A. (1998). Getting the message: Media images and stereotypes and their effect on Asian Americans. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4, 185–202.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. Montepare, J. M., & Dobish, H. (2003). The contribution of emotion perceptions and their overgeneralizations to trait impressions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 27, 237–254. doi:10.1023/A:1027332800296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Morris, M. W., & Peng, K. (1994). Culture and cause: American and Chinese attributions for social and physical events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 949–971.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Pauker, K., Weisbuch, M., Ambady, N., Sommers, S. R., Adams, R. B, Jr, & Ivcevic, Z. (2009). Not so black and white: Memory for ambiguous group members. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 795–810. doi:10.1037/a0013265.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  46. Paunonen, S. V., Ewan, K., Earthy, J., Lefave, S., & Goldberg, H. (1999). Facial features as personality cues. Journal of Personality, 67, 555–583.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Pyke, K. D., & Johnson, D. L. (2003). Asian American women and racialized femininities “doing” gender across cultural worlds. Gender and Society, 17, 33–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Rule, N. O., & Ambady, N. (2010). Democrats and republicans can be differentiated from their faces. PLoS One, 5(1), e8733. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008733.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  49. Rule, N. O., Ambady, N., Adams, R. B., Ozono, H., Nakashima, S., Yoshikawa, S., & Watabe, M. (2010). Polling the face: Prediction and consensus across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 1–15. doi:10.1037/a0017673.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Scharlemann, J. P. W., Eckel, C. C., Kacelnik, A., & Wilson, R. K. (2001). The value of a smile: Game theory with a human face. Journal of Economic Psychology, 22, 617–640. doi:10.1016/S0167-4870(01)00059-9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Trapnell, P. D., & Wiggins, J. S. (1990). Extension of the interpersonal adjective scales to include the big five dimensions of personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 781–790. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.59.4.781.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Tsai, J. L., Ying, Y.-W., & Lee, P. A. (2000). The meaning of “being Chinese” and “being American”: Variation among Chinese American young adults. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31, 302–332. doi:10.1177/0022022100031003002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Wiggins, J. S., & Pincus, A. L. (1992). Personality: Structure and assessment. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 473–504. doi:10.1146/annurev.ps.43.020192.002353.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions: Making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science, 17, 592–598. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01750.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nicole Senft.

Ethics declarations

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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Senft, N., Chentsova-Dutton, Y. & Patten, G.A. All smiles perceived equally: Facial expressions trump target characteristics in impression formation. Motiv Emot 40, 577–587 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-016-9558-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Emotional expression
  • Smiling
  • Impression formation
  • Culture