Does your boss smile back at you when he passes by? It might not always be a friendly gesture. According to a new study, those who feel powerful tend not to smile back at important people, saving their smiles instead for those below them in the hierarchy.
Researchers from the University of California hooked up 55 young men and women to equipment that measures key facial muscles, and were asked to watch video clips of people with jobs with different levels of prestige, who were smiling or frowning.
As they watched, the equipment measured the activity of zygomaticus major, the ‘smiling muscle’ that raises the corners of the mouth.
It also gave readouts for the corrugator supercilii, the ‘frowning muscle’ that furrows the brow and is frozen by Botox.
The results showed that the volunteers were more likely to scowl in response to a frown from someone in a position of power.
The men and women who felt powerful tended not to smile back at high-fliers.
However, they did return the smiles of those who were lower down the order.
Those who felt powerless smiled at everyone, regardless of their rank.
The researchers believe that people who feel powerful try to exert their dominance by not appearing too friendly to those who might be a threat. They have no such qualms about appearing approachable to those who lack authority.