This post is in response to Beauty May Be In Eye of Beholder But Eyes See What Culture Socializes by Mikhail Lyubansky

Smiling study photo stimulus

Are people more attractive when they smile? New study suggests it depends on their gender.

CBC news reported:

Women find men less attractive when they smile compared to when they take on swaggering or brooding poses, a Canadian study has found.

In contrast, men find women more attractive when they smile, and least attractive when they look proud and confident, the study of 1,084 heterosexual men and women shows. (read full story)

smiling women

Heterosexual men tend to find these women attractive.

On the surface, the take-home point for both men and women is pretty clear: If you want to attract the opposite sex, you should smile more if you're female and brood more if you're male. That's the kind of simple advice we can all use, and it has the added benefit of explaining Bella's initial fascination with Edward as well as the allure of bad-boys in general.

On the other hand, as study co-author Alex Beall told CBC News, the ratings were respondents' "gut reactions on carnal, sexual attraction," not whether they thought the people in the photos would make a desirable partner or spouse.  In other words, male online daters can go ahead and change their profile picture if they're looking for a one-night stand, but they might want to keep their smiling mug if they're looking for something else.

smiling men

Attractive? Maybe. But not as much as they would be if they stopped smiling.

But there are some other points worth making here, especially in the wake of Satoshi Kanazawa's controversial post regarding the supposed (relative) unattractiveness of Black women. Perhaps, whatever differences might exist (and an independent re-analysis of the data by Scott Barry Kaufman suggests they don't) are due to the fact that Black women may simply smile less than non-Black women.

I don't have any data to confirm this hypothesis, but Christelyn Russell-Karazin, who runs the popular interracial dating blog Beyond Black and White suggests that this may indeed be the case1.

Black people don't go around with big cheesy grins on their faces all day long. From a body language perspective, smiling is a form of submissiveness, which is probably why men are hotter when they don't do it, and women are hotter when they do. Black women especially have problems with smiling, and there's a variety of reasons for this, mostly stemming from self-preservation.

If Russell-Karazin is right about Black women smiling less than other women (and my hunch is that she is!), Black women may be perceived by some men as less attractive because they are seen as being more angry and dominant (i.e., less submissive) than other women. Meanwhile, if it is true (as this research study suggests) that men who don't smile are perceived by women to be more desirable and if it is also true that Black men smile less than non-Black men, then this may explain part of the reason why Black men, but not Black women, are sexually/romantically desired in our society.

It's also worth noting that one of the accommodations that Black men have had to historically make to successfully function in white society is to smile more, as the smiling tends to put white folks at ease. It's possible, therefore, that white women perceive smiling differently when looking at Black vs White men.  The study's prompts do have photographs of men from different racial groups, but the researchers do not report this particular analysis.  Scott Barry Kaufman, we have another job for you!

Update: 5/30/2011, 6:46 EST

1 Neither Russell-Karazin nor I agree with Kanazawa's conclusions that Black women are "objectively" less attractive. To the contrary, we both strongly object to such a conclusion. The purpose of this piece is to discuss individual differences in PERCEPTIONS, not any objective standard of beauty.


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Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers:

Are Happy Guys A Turn-Off? is a reply by Craig Malkin Ph.D.

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