A new study presented at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference in New Orleans suggests that people were more likely to return smiles to those they believe are of a lower status than themselves.
Researchers led by Evan Carr from the department of psychology at the University of California in San Diego were conducting the study to check out how power of a person and the status of those around him influenced the mimicry of other people's behavior. The researchers recruited 55 people and made them watch videos of high status and low status people getting happy or angry.
With the volunteers watching the videos, the researchers observed how it affected the two facial muscles, zygomaticus major and corrugator supercilii, which cause a person to smile or frown. The researchers found that if a person feels powerful, then he suppresses smiling towards those who he believes are of equal or higher status.
"If you see Joe the senior vice-president and he's smiling at you, but you feel powerful, you feel less of a need to smile back at him. For the low-power condition, you return more smiles to everyone, regardless of their status. That's interesting in the sense that it seems to be along the lines of a deference response - if you feel low-power, you're more likely to be submissive to another person you're interacting with. You would be more likely to smile at everybody", Carr said.