Smiling in a Yearbook Photo May Predict Happiness for Years to Come

Many previous studies have shown that emotions can shape the personality of an individual. Emotions might, therefore, also influence outcomes in life. A study done in California examined the association between personality traits in teenagers (especially positive emotions) with marital and personal accomplishments later in life. In the present experiment, personality traits were assessed by observing photographs of women in their college yearbook. “Finally, positive emotional expression predicted favorable outcomes in marriage and personal well-being up to 30 years late,” concludes the researchers.

Many studies have found that people with positive emotions, such as those who are always smiling, are perceived as intelligent, harmless, successful and agreeable. Such people are able to generate newer ideas and can also be efficient in finding solutions to problems. They are able to engage in any task quickly. This study was conducted to assess the long-term outcomes of positive emotions. Researchers particularly looked at personal well-being and marital accomplishment. Emotions can be assessed by measuring the contractions of facial muscles involved in the process of smiling. The emotions of the participants in this study were assessed by looking at their college yearbook photographs, taken when the participants were about 21 years old.

* The facial expressions of 141 participants was measured by looking at their photos in college yearbooks. Physical attractiveness was also measured, as it is also known to influence personal and marital outcomes.
* All the participants were contacted through mail at the age of 27, 43 and 52 years to assess their life situations. Data regarding their health, personality parameters, marriage, marital and social life and divorce were also collected.
* The personality of each participant was assessed by experienced psychologists to determine whether personality traits measured from the photographs correlated with the actual measurements by psychologists.

* Except for three women, all participants had smiled in their yearbook photographs. Out of a possible score of 10, the mean score for positive emotions was 3.80.
* Psychologists found that those women who showed a higher intensity of positive emotional expression in their photographs were sociable, caring and nurturing. The assessment through photographic and actual measurements correlated highly.
* Women who expressed more positive emotions were more likely to be married by the age of 27 years. Marital satisfaction at age 52 correlated positively with positive emotional expression. Participants with higher positive emotional scores had higher personal well-being scores at ages 21, 27, 43 as well as 52.
* Statistical analysis showed that these findings were independent of physical attractiveness of the participant.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The positive emotions of the participants were measured only once in this experiment. There was a need to monitor expressions throughout the study to conclusively establish the findings of this study. Future studies should identify the type of positive emotion (interest, amusement, enjoyment, and more) that is associated with more favorable life outcomes. This study included only women participants. Future studies must involve men as well so that the results can be generalized.

There is a growing interest in the effectiveness of positive thinking and how it may make life more successful. This study has added important information that positive emotions can improve personal and marital life. Another important finding is that the effect of positive emotions on personal and marital life is not affected by physical attractiveness of an individual. Positive emotions enable pleasant interactions with others; therefore, people who smile may get more social rewards. These people are better at maintaining their romantic relationships and consequently have a successful married life. In conclusion, “women who expressed more positive emotion in their yearbook pictures became more organized, mentally focused, and achievement-oriented and less susceptible to repeated and prolonged experiences of negative effects.”

For More Information:
Expression of Positive Emotion in Women’s College Yearbook Pictures and Their Relationship to Personality and Life Outcomes Across Adulthood
Publication Journal: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001
By LeeAnne Harker; Dacher Keltner; University of California, Berkeley

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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