What Makes People Smile More

Smiling and laughter are social tools that help people interact with each other. This research identifies how these behaviors are displayed in a group of people as a measure for social networking, and the effectiveness of such behaviors. Observations were made in natural set ups where people interacted in small groups. Individuals socializing in mixed groups of men and women were observed for their social smiling and laughter. Details about the smile or laughter frequency and the composition of the group in terms of age and sex were recorded. Three important hypotheses—namely sexual advertisement or mate choice, social competition, and cooperation—were tested in the research. The report suggests the positive role of smiling and laughter in cooperative relationships.

Smiling and laughter are social behaviors and found to be linked to parental care, leniency from judges to minor offenses, monetary benefits, and positive social judgments. Smiling and laughter also have a distinct social function as a signal to communicate information to others in a non-verbal manner. In this report, the role of smiles and laughter is analyzed for three important social agendas of human beings: sexual advertisement, social competition, and cooperation. Hypotheses were given for these facts with predictions and then observations were noted from a group of mixed population. The sexual advertisement hypothesis portrays how young women and men of any age can use smiles and laughter as a communication skill for courtship.

* The number of individuals sampled was 212. Those aged below 35 years were considered young and those above that were classified as mature.
* The age and sex of the individuals were recorded and further groups were made across the same sex and mixed sex or between the same age and mixed age.
* Observations were conducted in Liverpool City center, mainly in bars and food courts.
* Smiles and laughter of two types were considered: spontaneous and deliberate.

* The study showed that smiles or laughter vary with social set up and are dependent on group size and age but not on the sex of an individual.
* In a mixed group, the smiles and laughter of the observed women were more than those of the men. Younger females smiled and laughed more than men did. As the age group increased, this finding changed, with fewer older women laughing and smiling spontaneously as compared to younger men. In the male group, there was no difference in the smiles and laughter of younger and older men.
* In the sexual hypotheses, the points noted were that a larger group of men had a positive effect on the rate of laughter of the females but a larger number of men caused males to smile less. Women however were not affected when the number of females in the group increased. Younger men and women showed more spontaneous smiles compared to the older men and women.
* In the competition hypotheses, these points were noted: Overall, the more the number of people in a group, the more the smiles and laughter seen. Older men tended to smile more when they were in a younger group.
* In the cooperation hypotheses, it was noted that men seemed to smile more at other men, while women did not show any preference about whom they smiled at.
* In a group with more men, women tended to speak less and listen more. This encouraged male competition for the female as a mate.

The group size was limited to understand all the social aspects of smiling and laughter. Social variables could not be controlled. Lack of group dynamics did not allow a clear distinction between the social competition and cooperation hypotheses. There is scope for future research to investigate the effect of social parameters on the nature of humor and the way men and women react to them.

A comprehensive study in a natural set up showed the role or use of smiles and laughter in human society for choosing mates, competitiveness and social cooperation. The most important outcome of this research is that smiles and laughter are more effective in controlling socializing among people of the same sex for social cooperation than for sexual advertisement. Only among women are smiling and laughter found to be connected to the courtship desires in a mixed group population. Two different types of smiles, the spontaneous and the deliberate, were distinguished. Spontaneous smiles were found to be used for emotional involvement and deliberate smiles could be used to maintain hierarchy in a social set up.

For More Information:
Naturalistic observations of smiling and laughter in  human group interactions
By Marc Mehu:  Robin I. M. Dunbar
From the University of Liverpool, England

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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