Perception is Everything: How Others See Your Smile & Why it Matters

woman smiling

Dental patients may be unaware of how their smile is perceived by others. Sure, it’s nice to have a healthy smile because it makes you feel good about yourself, but what about what an healthy or unhealthy smile says to other people.

Much of communication and social interaction happens non-verbally, and first impressions are no different. These are what your gestures, posture, appearance and smile say about you before you even have to say anything. Humans are biologically wired to judge a book by its cover. While during the course of our evolution this trait was invaluable to our survival, now it presents social difficulties for people who may not be blessed with the best smile. But don’t worry – we can help with that.

Science Says Your Smile is Important to Others

A 1993 study on the cultural differences between American and Japanese cultural perceptions of smiling showed that for Americans, people with a more pleasing smile were seen as being happier, more attractive, and successful. This study has since been supported by subsequent ones. But that’s not all –

A 2011 study on the value of a genuine vs polite smile indicated that people really do appreciate a genuine toothy grin over a polite smile.

A 2013 study on how a smile affects people’s perception of intelligence found that, in Western industrialized cultures, smiling often makes you appear more intelligent.

A 2017 study on the perception of smiling on warmth and competence showed that genuine, broad smiles increased others’ perception of a person’s warmth and increased low-cost helping behaviors.

A study from 2019 explored how smiling alters social interactions, and found that genuine smiles led to positive social interaction.

Finally, a 2022 study on how mask-wearing during COVID affected perception of facial emotions found that smiling, while not rendered completely useless by masks, were not well-understood by others regarding purpose, i.e. reward, affiliation, etc.

What do Others See When You Smile?

Genuine smiles are so deeply ingrained in people that even those who have been blind since birth demonstrate genuine smiling in reaction to positive events. And from an outsider’s perspective, a genuine smile often makes others feel more comfortable around you. Smiling can also make you appear friendlier.

Let’s use an example of a job interview. Potential employers are not only looking at your resume and qualifications. During an interview, your ability to connect with others, as well as your overall demeanor is being evaluated. Smiling can set the tone for a positive interview experience, increasing the likelihood of a positive first impression.

A myriad of additional studies indicated that smiling makes others view you as more:

  • Kind
  • Sociable
  • Honest
  • Pleasant
  • Carefree
  • Polite


And first impressions are important. In fact, a bad first impression can take up to 8 subsequent positive interactions to reverse. And when you’re considering things like job interviews or dating, if you leave a bad first impression, you’re definitely not getting those 8 next chances you need to reverse it.

Your Smile can Create Lasting Impressions on Others

The good news is that to make a good first impression, you may literally only need a nice smile, or a strong handshake, or a good joke. And that impression will be just as difficult to change as a poor one, as the other person has already attached positive feelings to you.

When our brains attach positive qualities to a person after seeing a single quality we like, it is known as the “halo effect”. This term was coined by researcher Edward Thorndike in 1920. The idea behind the halo effect is that people essentially come to conclusions about others based on their perception of them. And smiling is a proven way to kick start a halo effect when you meet a stranger.

Smiling is Both Calming & Contagious

Scientists at the University of Kansas completed a study in which subjects were asked to complete several stressful tasks. Some of the participants were instructed to smile during the tasks and the others were asked to keep a straight face. The heart rates of the participants were then measured, and the individuals were also asked to report on their stress levels. Not only were the heart rates lower in the participants who were smiling, they also reported feeling more positive overall compared to those keeping a straight face.

The other thing about a smile is that it actually affects the person you’re smiling at, not just how they perceive you. Multiple studies on the ripple effects of mood indicate that, just like a negative mood can make others feel crappy, a positive affect can make others feel better.

The Real-Life Effects of a Great Smile

Being confident in your smile is key to feeling confident enough to offer those genuine smiles and create positive perceptions. Confidence is directly linked to career success and trajectory, healthy social relationships, romance, and overall mental well-being. So there are real-world reasons you deserve a healthy smile – it helps you reach your goals.

If you weren’t granted a great smile by nature, we can fix it for you! Whether you need a decayed tooth extracted, a gum graft, or several missing teeth replaced, our oral surgery practice offers treatments like:

  • Dentures
  • Dental implants
  • Bridges
  • Bonding
  • Bone grafts
  • Soft tissue grafts


Smiling is one of the simplest and most effective ways to make a good impression on others. It’s contagious, leaving those around you with a positive feeling, and it has a lasting impact on the people you meet. Next time you’re meeting someone new, try smiling – you may be surprised at how well it works!

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