Smiling Within Mixed-Sex Groups

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What is the social purpose of smiling and laughter in human group interactions? Is it that smiling promotes mating or courtship for women or for men? In other words, is the reason people smile, to show others that they are attracted to them or to enhance one’s appeal? This study focuses on the frequency of smiling for men and women when they are in the presence of one another and what could potentially be the reason behind it. Previous research shows that women smile more frequently when in mixed sex groups than men, which was the drive for the hypothesis of this study (Mehu & Dunbar, 2008). This study will present the results of the following research question: Will women show a higher frequency of smiling and laughter compared to men in mixed-sex groups?

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The sole focus of the study was to determine if a difference exists between these two genders in terms of smiling and if so which group displays a higher frequency of the action. A naturalistic observation was executed in order to gain knowledge about these two groups and the frequency of their smiling in a social setting.

According to the study conducted by Mehu and Dunbar (2008), smiling can be considered a social behavior due to it occurring more often in a social setting compared to a non-social setting, which is why bars and restaurants seemed like the ideal place to observe people. One of their emphasized hypothesis was the sexual advertisement hypothesis, which indicated that smiling was a behavior for women to incite courtship. Their reasoning behind it was that neurobiological research suggests that a smile increases the attractiveness of a face. In addition, they believe that the frequency of a women laughing can potentially be how interested she is in a male. They performed an experiment comparing the frequency of smiling within mixed-sex groups and same-sex to determine if there is a difference. It was concluded that the frequency of smiling does not differ in these groups, however, when they compared the frequency of women smiling to men in mixed-sex groups, women showed a significantly higher frequency than when they were interacting in same sex groups. Therefore, indicating that it is indeed likely for women to smile to show courtship towards men (Mehu & Dunbar, 2008).

To further support this hypothesis, another study by Guéguen (2008), also approached this topic by indicating that a women’s smile pushes for men’s courtship. Their results concluded that more men approached the woman when she smiled than when she did not. In this case, once again, a woman who smiles is considered to be more attractive to a man and increases the number of men who approach her. All in all, smiling seems to be considered an expression to show interest in the opposite sex and it has been seen more often in women.

Furthermore, there have been 100 studies based on gender differences in smiling in several different countries and most of them have also resulted with women smiling more than men. On the contrary, a scientific approach to this perspective is that testosterone in men can change the way their brain functions by inhibiting how often they smile. This can be explained by the levels of testosterone that cause the brain to push away from the left dominated hemisphere to the non-dominant hemisphere, which leads to men being less emotional and sensitive to others in a social setting. Essentially, this is a possible explanation for the lower frequency of smiling shown by men (Ellis, 2006). In addition, women are known to express their emotions more often than men and usually have more positive expressions than negative expressions (McDuff, 2017).

Typically, a smile is universally seen as a positive and happy expression, but they can serve a variety of functions. Studies suggest that there may be a total of 50 smile types and so many different purposes behind each smile. For instance, an experiment conducted by Johnston, Miles, & Macrae (2010), showed significant data confirming that people cooperate more often when those they are helping have an “enjoyment smile” rather than a “non-enjoyment smile.”

Therefore, it cannot be concluded that the sexual advertisement hypothesis is the only drive for women and men smiling. There are so many more functions and variables that come with a smile so it cannot be limited to one. Nevertheless, this specific hypothesis is important to look into because many just assume that women are smiling to show interest, but as shown in many research studies, this is not always the case. This is a stereotype, that females are always cheerier and more emotionally expressive than males, which usually perceives women as weak and as allowing their emotions to get in the way of their goals or work (Ellis, 2006).


Research Design and Procedures

This study was performed using a non-experimental correlational design. It was a naturalistic observation that took place in Midtown (University Avenue, Gainesville), which is a street full of bars and restaurants where mostly young people visit to socialize at night. A random sample of 30 subjects, 15 men and 15 women, who were in a mixed group of both genders were observed each for 10 minutes. The frequency of smiling/laughing was recorded for each participant.


The predictor variable was sex, male or female. A participant would only be observed if they were socializing within a group of women and men. The group size could range from two individuals or more as long as the participant being observed was within a maximum distance of 20ft (6 meters). The participants’ face has to be completely visible in order to count the number of times they smile and to not compromise the validity of the observation. In addition, the stability of a group was important so keeping the counted observations was only allowed if the group stayed together for the 10 minutes. In the results, women are coded as “0” and men as “1”.

The unit of analysis was the criterion variable, the frequency of laughter and smiles displayed by each subject. Smiling can be operationally defined as the upward curve of the mouth that shows a pleasant expression. It can be differentiated into spontaneous, symmetric smile, and deliberate, asymmetric smile. Regardless of the type of smile or laugh, they are counted as an occurrence and summed up to represent the frequency of smiles for each participant.

Statistical Analysis


The sample size as stated in the method was 30 subjects, 15 men and 15 women. The average frequency of smiling was calculated for each group. Women had an average of 10.9 while men had an average of 11.3. Clearly, men had a slightly higher average of smiling than women. Nevertheless, the question remains, how significantly different are these two groups in terms of smiling in the presence of each other.

The frequency of smiling for each group, women and men, was analyzed and compared using an independent samples t-test. In mixed-sex groups, the frequency of smiling and laughter will be higher by women compared to men. This hypothesis is rejected because the evidence was not statistically significant despite what the descriptive statistics (mean) showed. Contrary to the hypothesis, the frequency of smiling for men and women was not significantly different. Levene’s test was used to determine if the assumption of equal variances was not violated and indeed the variances were equal. The p-value calculated from Levene’s test was .781, which is much higher than alpha 0.05. The independent sample t-test further confirms that there is no difference in the frequency of these two groups. The p-value, .851, is much larger than the alpha 0.05, so the null hypothesis cannot be rejected. Therefore, rejecting the hypothesis that these two groups would display a different frequency of smiling, or to be more specific, that women would have a higher frequency of smiling compared to men.


There are so many research studies that investigate smiling and the reason behind it. They all look at this topic through different perspectives. Some view smiling as just an expression to show happiness, while others look into it more deeply by looking into the science behind it. Most studies that were used for background research in this study indicated that women show a higher frequency of smiling compared to men. Therefore, the hypothesis for this study is that females will have a higher average of smiling than males. The hypothesis was rejected due to the fact that the evidence was not statistically significant. It was concluded that the two groups, women and men, showed no difference in the frequency of smiling, which contradict what many studies in the past have shown.

Nevertheless, some of these studies were performed a couple of years back, which could indicate that people have changed in terms of wanting to be more socially accepted. Their actions are driven by society in order to perceive something that is accepted by others (McDuff, 2017). For instance, the different results that were obtained in this study could potentially be explained by guys wanting to be perceived as being nicer or as more of a “gentleman” rather than a “tough” guy. Back in the day, most guys wanted to be seen as tough and aggressive rather than sensitive. Now a day, females are pushing for guys to be the opposite. There are so many variables that affect smiling and people’s emotions making it difficult to pinpoint the cause of it. Although this study failed to support the sexual advertisement hypothesis, it opened many more questions as to what are more psychological and scientific findings that can support or contradict previous findings.

The fact that this study took place at Midtown, where there is mainly just young people could possibly have affected the results of the study by limiting the participants to just young people who have recently transitioned from puberty. A better alternative would be restaurants located in a different area that is not so student based. In addition, a bigger sample would allow for a more representative sample of the human population because 30 participants may be too limited. Also increasing the allotted time that each participant is observed from 10 minutes to 20 minutes will allow for a more accurate average of the frequency of smiling. Moreover, observing more closely to be able to separate the types of smiles, such as deliberate or spontaneous, will be helpful in terms of being more specific.

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Smiling Within Mixed-Sex Groups. (2022, Sep 02). Retrieved October 4, 2022 , from

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