Be careful when you smile

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But though there may be times when it is advantageous for us to smile when we don’t feel particularly cheerful, there is a flipside. Researchers from the universities of Illinois and California wondered whether professional fighters’ smiles during the face-off before a bout might predict who the victor would be. Michael Kraus and Tey-Way Chen obtained face-off photographs of 152 Ultimate Fighting Championships athletes and rated them for smile intensity. Remarkably, winning fighters displayed less intensive smiles in face-offs than losers, and fighters winning by a knock-out displayed the least intensive smiles of all.
In a context where physical dominance is important, smiling can thus be a sign of appeasement and subordinate status. The fighters who smiled were unintentionally leaking information about their own sense of weakness, so passing a psychological advantage to their opponent. The message from this is that taking control of your emotional state and putting on a display of dominance even where that is not felt (in this case avoiding smiling) is a good strategy in competitive environments.