What Effect Do Laughter and Smiles Have on Our Relationship?

Smiling and laughing are natural ways for men and women to show other people how they feel. However, different cultures may have different rules for how individuals should express these emotions. In some Western cultures, such as the European-American one, people tend to express their emotions frequently and openly. People from other cultures, such as East Asians, laugh and smile considerably less frequently, and they are more reserved in their emotional expressions (Karandashev, 2021).

Evolutionary Functions of Smiling and Laughing

Professor Adrienne Wood and her colleague proposed that smiling and laughing could serve certain psychological functions in their evolutionary origins. They were designed to convey certain communicative messages. Among those are (1) the function of rewarding prosocial behavior, (2) the affiliative function, and (3) the function of asserting dominance in relationships.

How Smiling and Laughing Affect Our Behavior

Smiles and laughter have different effects depending on the context of actions and interactions. The effects of smiles and laughter also depend on who is smiling and laughing. When a competitor smiles at you, it can always feel dangerous. However, the studies of Adrienne Wood and her colleague suggest that the effect of smiles and laughter on the observer is partially due to physical form:

  • how symmetrical or open-mouthed the smile is,
  • how melodious or nasal the laughter is.

Professor Wood and her colleagues have looked at the social functions of smiles and laughter in a variety of ways and contexts.

Do Smiling and Laughing Improve Our Relationship?

The question of research interest is “how laughter and smiles affect our daily relationships.”

Many men and women believe that laughter and smiles help improve their interpersonal relationships. Others think they should be more reserved in their expressions of emotion and not smile too often. People from different cultures may have different explanations and cultural stereotypes in this regard.

What Did Smiling and Laughing Studies Reveal? 

 Dr. Jared Martin conducted one study in which people gave stressful speeches while an observer smiled at them in rewarding, affiliative, or dominant ways. He discovered that the stress hormone cortisol was highest when their speeches were greeted with dominance smiles and lowest when they were greeted with reward smiles. It appears that smiles are not always well received. They can be stressful at times.

In the most recent effort, researchers brought people together through laughter and smiles. Over a thousand people were shown short videos of actors smiling in positive, neutral, or dominant ways. Then, the researcher gave them two short recordings of laughter, both of which had been produced by actors, and asked them to choose the one they thought conveyed a message most like that of the smile.

Researchers discovered that people frequently pair reward smiles and laughs together, as well as affiliation smiles and laughs, but rarely pair dominance smiles and laughs.

Evidently, the relationship between a smile and an expression of humor is more nuanced than we realized.

What Do We Still Need to Know About Smiling and Laughing?

More research is needed to determine whether smiles and laughter can convey the same messages. When you’re on the phone and the recipient can’t see you, can you replace a polite smile with a polite laugh? Can you tease as well with a smile as with a laugh?

What we do know for the time being is that smiles and laughter are versatile behaviors that help us influence the emotions, thoughts, and actions of others.

For the time being, we know that smiles and laughter are adaptable behaviors that allow us to influence the emotions, thoughts, and actions of others. Smiles and laughter work in accord with humor and improve our love relationships in the early stages of a relationship as well as over time as the relationship progresses.