Gender Differences in Smiling For many years, gender and gender role differences have been extremely popular topics of study in the psychological field. Everyone seems interested in knowing is there is any
truth to the popularized statement and book title, Women are from Venus, Men are from
Mars. Studies have found so many differences between men and women it leaves one
wondering in what areas are men and women alike. One nonverbal signal that appears
universal for men and women is smiling, but research shows that there are gender
differences within that behavior.
Kraut and Johnston (1999) define a smile as the major component of a facial display
associated with and caused by feelings of happiness or joy. Deutsch, LeBaron and Fryer
(1987) found that people who smile more often are viewed as carefree, warm, happy,
relaxed and polite. Mackey (1976) stated that a smile is a social signal that offers
reassurance, non-hostility or appeasement. Clearly researchers agree that a smile is
associated with positive feelings and emotions, so what is the difference between men and
women displaying this signal?
Halberstadt, Hayes and Pike (1988) offered the explanation that women smile more
than men because smiling is an important part of the nurturing, expressive role that is
socially appropriate for women to exhibit. They observed gender differences in smiling
during communication in a laboratory setting. They hypothesized that women would
smile more often than men during conversation. They found a significant difference
between the number of smiles per minute by women (mean = 3.93) and men (mean =
Deutsch, LeBaron and Fryer (1987) conducted a study in which participants rated
pictures of smiling and non-smiling men and women on their perceived personalities. As
expected, they found that smiling people were rated as more happy, more polite and
warmer than non-smiling people. They also found that non-smiling women were rated
harsher and as more unfriendly that non-smiling men. The results support previous studies
that suggest that women are socially expected to smile more than men and are viewed
more unfavorably if they do not exhibit the behavior.
Briton and Hall (1995) studied the differences between men and women and found that
men are typically believed to be more aggressive, noisy and dominant whereas women are
believed to be more gentle, emotional and sensitive to others needs. These perceptions are
accompanied by expected nonverbal behavior. Men are expected to fold their arms, make
occasional eye contact and dominate the conversation. Women are expected to touch,
smile, lean forward and be more submissive during conversations.
Most research studying gender differences in smiling have found similar results, that
women smile more often during verbal interaction than men. Other studies indicate that
this difference may occur because of the social expectations placed on men and women.
The purpose of the present study was to investigate, using a naturalistic observation, if
there are gender differences in smiling. Taking into consideration the results from
previous studies done on this topic, I hypothesized that females will smile more often than
men during verbal interaction.
Sixty-four participants were part of a convenient sample for this study. Thirty-three of
the participants were females and the remaining 31 were males. Estimated age of the
participants ranged from 16-51, with the average age being 26.1. There was no
discrimination of participants by age or race.
The naturalistic observation took place at Ruby Tuesday’s, The great American Cafe
and the food court, all located at the Madison Square Mall, on randomly chosen days and
times. The observer was seated in an obscure place that did not infringe on the
A data sheet was used to collect information that identified estimated age of
participant, gender of participant and frequency of smiles expressed in a five minute time
frame. It also noted the date and location of the observation.
The experimenter was seated at random places in the restaurants and the food court
and observed and recorded the frequency of smiles that occurred during a five minute time
frame. A smile was defined as a facial expression indicating pleasure, favor or amusement,
characterized by an upturning of the corners of the mouth. If the experimenter could not
clearly distinguish between a smile and a similar facial expression, such as a smirk, that
was not recorded or included in this observation.
Within a five and one-half hour time period, females expressed 1,937 smiles, with the
average number of smiles expressed by females in a five minute time frame being 11.73.
Males expressed 1,035 smiles within a five and one-half hour time period, with the
average number of smiles expressed in a five minute time frame being 6.67. Figure 1 and
Figure 2 indicate this data respectively.
A one-way Chi-squared was used to analyze the data. The results showed a significant
difference in the smiling behavior by women compared to men, X2 (1, N = 64) = 0.09,
The results of the present study indicate that females smile more often than men during
verbal interactions. This conclusion is consistent with the results from previous studies
and my hypothesis was supported with significant results. These results could have been
influenced by several factors that will be discussed in further detail.
Although there was a significant difference in the frequency of smiles expressed by
women versus men, I think that the results could be more powerful if duplicated using a
much larger sample size. Another possible reason for the difference in the frequency of
smiling is the influence of alcohol. Some of the participants were drinking alcoholic
beverages, which may have an affect on their attitude and corresponding behavior.
Another factor one must consider is the topic of the conversation. Mackey (1976) stated
that facial expressions are used to complement what one is expressing verbally. If the
participants are discussing happy, upbeat topics their facial expression will be different
than it would be when discussing serious or saddening topics. The mood of the
participant will also influence their facial expressions. When people are in good moods,
their facial expressions usually speak for themselves and this is also true for people that
are in bad moods. Finally, the weather can influence peoples’ nonverbal communication.
Kraut and Johnston (1979) found that pedestrians walking in pleasant weather are more
likely to smile than those walking in unpleasant weather.
The few studies that I found that observed smiling behavior raises important questions.
Why is a behavior that is looked upon favorably not expressed equally in women and men?
Is the idea that variations in nonverbal communication of men and women corresponds to
expected social roles correct? Is smiling an unconscious, reflexive behavior or can people
control when and when not to smile?
The differences in smiling between men and women has not been a popular topic of
exploration. There was a lack of substantial data pertaining to this topic. I think that it is
an interesting topic that deserves more attention in the social psychological field. This
study should be duplicated using a much larger sample size which will allow generalization
to the entire population.
Briton, N. J. & Hall, J. A. (1995). Beliefs about female and male nonverbal
communication. Sex Roles, 32, 79-91.
Deutsch, F. M., LeBaron, D., & Fryer, M. M. (1987). What is in a smile? Psychology
of Women Quarterly, 11, 341-352.
Halberstadt, A. G., Hayes, C. W., & Pike, K. M. (1988). Gender and gender role
differences in smiling and communication consistency. Sex Roles, 19, 589-604.
Kraut, R. E. & Johnston, R. E. (1979). Social and emotional messages of smiling: An
ethological approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1539-1553.
Mackey, W. C. (1976). Parameters of the smile as a social signal. The Journal of
Genetic Psychology, 129, 125-130.