One of the longest-held unspoken rules for being cool is keeping one’s emotions under control. This idea is commonly reinforced through advertisements where fashion models often look inexpressive and rarely smile.
In a new study, researchers at the University of Arizona wanted to investigate whether this link between concealing emotions and coolness was in fact true. In a series of experiments, participants looked at print-ad models who were either smiling or being inexpressive. The findings reveal that being inexpressive doesn’t necessarily make you look cool to others, but smiling often does.
“We found over and over again that people are perceived to be cooler when they smile compared to when they are inexpressive in print advertisements,” says Caleb Warren, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arizona. “Being inexpressive makes people seem unfriendly or cold rather than cool.”
For the study, the participants looked at models — either smiling or inexpressive — in print advertisements for a clothing brand. The models included well-known celebrities such as James Dean, Emily Didonato, and Michael Jordan as well as unknown models. They were endorsing both unfamiliar brands and well-known brands.
The participants were asked to rate how cool the model seemed on a seven-point scale. The participants consistently rated the smiling models as cooler than the inexpressive models. The researchers were surprised that participants preferred the smiling pictures of James Dean, who is often inexpressive in photographs and considered a cool icon. The findings also reveal that participants have a less favorable impression of the brand when the models are inexpressive.
Warren and his co-authors, Todd Pezzuti from the University of Chile and Shruti Koley from Texas A&M University, found one exception to the rule: competitive situations. When a news article showed mixed martial arts fighters who were going to face one another at a press conference, participants rated the inexpressive athlete as more cool and dominant than a smiling athlete.
However, when the context changed to a friendly meeting with fans at a press conference, then the participants rated the smiling fighter as cooler. “This shows that being uncool or cool can depend on the context,” says Warren.
The results have implications not only for advertisers who are striving to make favorable impressions on consumers, but also for the average person in everyday life. In particular, Warren hopes this research will increase awareness about how we perceive one another. In social media, for example, people may want to consider posting smiling photos rather than inexpressive ones.
“This inaccurate belief about how to become cool can influence the way we communicate with others, and being inexpressive can hurt relationships,” Warren says. “It also makes it more difficult to understand one another. For these reasons, being inexpressive isn’t necessarily cool.”
The findings are published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
Source: Society for Consumer Psychology