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Are You More Attractive When You Express Different Moods?

How facial variability impacts perceived authenticity.

Key points

  • Emotional expressions impact judgments of leadership and trustworthiness.
  • People draw inferences from variability of expression.
  • Emotional variability can increase favorable social impressions, and decrease negative social impressions.

When we tell someone they wear their emotions on their sleeve, we really mean their face. This is important because your emotional expressions impact the way others view you, literally. Accordingly, when it comes to evaluating other people, we are likely to be more perceptive when meeting someone in person, versus viewing a headshot. And we may like them better if we see not just their features, but their expression—especially if it is not always the same.

Image by Pexels on Pixabay
Source: Image by Pexels on Pixabay

Poker Face or Mood Swinger?

When it comes to judging credibility through reading someone’s face, do people prefer expressive or stoic? Or do they prefer a range of emotions on display? Michael L. Slepian and Evan W. Carr studied this issue in a piece entitled “Facial Expressions of Authenticity” (2019), where they examined how emotional expressions impact judgments of leadership and trustworthiness.[i] They begin by noting what some people recognize instinctively—that we automatically generate first impressions from the faces of others. Rather than focusing on static, morphological facial features, they investigated how variability in facial emotion impacts social evaluations.

Variability, Not Intensity

Slepian and Carr found their effects to be based specifically on variability in emotional displays, as opposed to the intensity of emotion, and further found that they specifically increased the positivity of social judgments, not their extremity. They conclude that overall, people do not simply consider the average of facial expressions to judge an individual, they also draw inferences from the variability of expression.

Noting that their work is the first investigation of how displaying variability in facial emotion influences the formation of impressions, Slepian and Carr showed that a higher degree of variability creates a perception that someone is more authentic, likely genuinely displaying their true emotions rather than putting on an act.

They found that these effects extend through several important social dimensions, such as perceived trustworthiness, happiness, and leadership potential. In other words, people are evaluated more favorably when they express a variety of emotions.

Slepian and Carr also noted that expressions of emotional variability not only increased favorable social impressions but also decreased negative social impressions, such as unfriendliness. This result was significant considering their high variability conditions included both negative and positive features. Summarizing their proposed model, they note that emotional variability functions as a social cue that causes individuals to appear more trustworthy and authentic.

The Importance of Both Looking and Listening

We are naturally inclined to perceive as much information as we can when forming new relationships, and apparently, it’s not only the eyes that we perceive to be the windows to the soul; it’s the entire face. And when it comes to expressions, change is good, and perhaps more is better. Yet because healthy relationships require both looking and listening when you meet someone who appears to be authentic, you can corroborate your observations through conversation, to learn more about the individual behind the expressions.


[i] Slepian, Michael L., and Evan W. Carr. 2019. “Facial Expressions of Authenticity: Emotion Variability Increases Judgments of Trustworthiness and Leadership.” Cognition 183 (February): 82–98. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2018.10.009.