When people smile at you, do you smile back? According to a new study, your answer to that question depends on your feelings about two things: power and status. In other words, if you think the other person is more powerful than you, you will smile back. But if you think your social status makes you more powerful, then you probably won’t smile back!
I know it sounds crazy, but that’s the gist of new research into something known as the “boss effect.” Basically, it’s the study of how our expressions can change - in subtle ways - depending on who’s the boss. For example: In one recent experiment, people watched videos of someone talking, who they were told held a high-ranking position - like a doctor, and while they watched, researchers filmed them to observe their reactions.
Believe it or not, when people saw someone in the video smile - who they perceived as being more powerful – then they also smiled! But when they watched videos of other people who they perceived as being less powerful – like a janitor – then they didn’t smile at all. Why would this happen?
Dr. Evan Carr is a neuroscientist who says this “boss effect” is hard-wired into our brain.
He says one of the ways humans learned to survive was by mimicking each other's expressions. So if the leader of the tribe smiled at you – and you smiled back – he was less likely to kill you.
So how does that relate to the boss? Well, these days - we're more likely to smile at someone in power because we want them to like us - and not fire us - or possibly hire us! But we don't smile at people we think are not as powerful because we don't have anything to gain - and they might be our competition for that job, or woman, or promotion.
So, whether we like it or not, the boss effect is ingrained in our subconscious - and controls whether we smile back - or not.