Study Reveals Facially Expressive People Are More Likable and Socially Successful

An extensive study by researchers at Nottingham Trent University reveals that individuals with more expressive facial features are likely to be more likable and socially adept. The findings could explain the evolutionary importance of complex facial expressions.

An illuminating new study from Nottingham Trent University (NTU) indicates that people who are more facially expressive are generally more likable and socially successful. The research, which analyzed over 1,500 natural conversations, proposes that complex facial muscle movements have evolved to foster social bonds and enhance social interactions.

In the initial phase, researchers engaged with 52 participants in semi-structured video calls designed to capture a range of everyday scenarios, such as humor, embarrassment and conflict. Participants were further challenged to maintain a still face while their partners attempted to evoke movement, testing their ability to inhibit facial expressions.

Following these interactions, participants recorded short videos where they aimed to achieve specific social goals, like appearing friendly or disagreeable without being disliked. These clips were then rated by over 170 independent observers, assessing the readability of the emotions and expressions displayed.

The researchers utilized the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a method for measuring facial muscle activity, to evaluate each participant’s expressivity. Subsequently, the study extended to analyze an existing dataset of unscripted video conversations between 1,456 strangers, where participants rated their conversational partners’ likability.

The study revealed that individuals who were more expressive were consistently rated as more likable by both independent observers and their conversation partners. Additionally, these expressive individuals were easier to read and more adept at using facial behaviors to attain their social goals.

“This is the first large-scale study to examine facial expression in real-world interactions,” the study’s lead author Eithne Kavanagh said in a statement. “Our evidence shows that facial expressivity is related to positive social outcomes. It suggests that more expressive people are more successful at attracting social partners and in building relationships. It also could be important in conflict resolution.”

The research highlights the significant role facial expressions play in successful social interactions, suggesting evolutionary benefits.

“This research is important in evolutionary terms as it may explain why humans have developed more complex facial expression than any other species – it helps us to create stronger bonds and better navigate the social world,” Bridget Waller, professor of evolution and social behavior at NTU Psychology, who led the European Research Council funded project, said in the statement.

These insights could have broad implications, ranging from improving interpersonal communication skills to enhancing conflict resolution strategies. The full findings of the study are detailed in the journal Scientific Reports.