Usage Of Smiling And Laughter As A Form Of The Sexual Advertisement

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Nonverbal forms of communication are just as important and effective as verbal ones. Smiling and laughing are two forms of nonverbal communication useful for conveying emotions whether it be expressing joy, frustration, or even lust. An observational study was conducted on 30 subjects, 15 men and 15 women, focusing specifically on women’s utilization of these behaviors as sexual advertisement towards men. Statistical test results indicated that women more often displayed smiling and laughter than men. Results supported the findings of similar studies previously conducted. Interpretations of the current study’s findings and advice for future investigations are discussed.

Keywords: smiling, sexual advertisement, laughter, observational study

Smiling and Laughter as Sexual Advertisement

Smiling and laughter are social behaviors useful for communicating nonverbally. This study considered the behaviors as means of sexually advertising one’s self. Research shows these behaviors can enhance an individual’s attractiveness to others but has not determined the effectiveness of usage by different sexes. Therefore, an observational study was conducted on mixed-sex groups with the hypothesis in mind that smiling and laughter are forms of sexual advertising which promote attractiveness solely in women towards men. The following results are from the study which addressed the research question: Do smiling and laughter promote attraction - sexual advertising - between men and women?

Literature Review

Previous studies regarding the usage of smiling and laughter were often only about one behavior or the other. Some studies claim that smiling can be selective, only utilized when favorable results for the user are possible (Mehu, Dunbar, & Grammer, 2007). If this is true then individuals may purposefully smile in hopes of developing a relationship. Another study by Mehu and Dunbar concluded that young women were more likely than men to display these behaviors [smiling and laughter] (Mehu & Dunbar, 2008). This same study also found that in mixed-sex groups, women more often aimed their smiles and laughter at men (Mehu & Dunbar, 2008). Both of these studies show that smiling and laughter are more frequently observed in women which combined with the first study provided the basis for this current study’s investigation.

Some studies disputed the idea of smiling and laughter being used as sexual advertisement. In a meta-analysis of the disparity in frequency of smiling between sexes, it was suggested that smiling may not necessarily be a sign of underlying emotion (i.e. sexual advertising) but rather a subconscious social display (LaFrance, Paluck, & Heck, 2003) due to cultural norms. The cultural norm being that it is more common for women to openly expressing their emotions whereas men tend to repress theirs. Along with this, women are often depicted and encouraged to smile. Despite this idea, the results of the study concluded that women and adolescent girls smile more than the opposing sex in a multitude of countries (LaFrance et al., 2003). These results provide the knowledge that women are more likely to smile and laugh in social situation as means of expression regardless of culture.

Other sources provide a more general overview of smiling and laughter. They consider the types of smiles and laughter, their purposes in human sociality, and what exactly they can communicate. Eric Jaffe’s The Psychological Study of Smiling notes that smiles help promote attractiveness. This is in part due to activation in “the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex [which is] involved in processing sensory rewards” (Jaffe, 2010), smiles being the sensory reward. Similar to Jaffe’s paper, Rod A. Martin’s book, The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach, gives a broad overview of laughter in human sociality. A study suggests laughing at the things another person finds humorous helps increase one’s own attractiveness (Martin, 2006). Individuals seem to be especially attracted to those who laugh at their jokes. This is likely because the laughter shows a shared sense of humor which builds a connection between the two people. It also can be attributed to the concept of sensory rewards as laughter at a joke generally involves smiling.

Knowing what previous research has been conducted regarding this topic, it is a common finding that smiling and laughter were more often displayed by women than men. It is also found that these behaviors do promote an individual’s attractiveness answering the research question. For further insight on this topic, this study worked to connect the results of these existing studies to observe the effectiveness of these behaviors in women towards men.

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Research Design and Procedures

The research design of this study used to test the hypothesis was observational. A total of 30 human individuals were sampled. Data was collected on 15 men and 15 women each from a separate mixed-sex group. Mixed-sex group meaning both men and women were in it. Since this was purely an off-hands observational study, no personal information is accounted for in this study.

Observations were conducted in the food court of the University of Florida’s student union building around noon. People were inconspicuously observed from a distance of about 5-25 feet away. Individuals were chosen based off of group composition including size, sex, and stability. Visibility of the individuals face was also a factor in if they were chosen or not. Observation durations varied from 15 to 60 minutes, based on the time individuals were within sight. Data covered a total of 5 hours of observations with the average of 31.267 minutes.

Variables and Measures

Variables for this study were groups and the two behaviors of interest: smiling and laughing. Subjects were chosen based on stability of their group. To be considered a stable group, at least three individuals had to be conversing and members had to remain together for the entirety of the sampling period. Smiling and laughing had an operational definition similar to the one used in Mehu and Dunbar’s naturalistic observational study of smiling and laughter. Smiles were categorized as either spontaneous or deliberate. A spontaneous smile involved movement in the eye region and was an immediate response.

A deliberate smile was one that was either obviously forced or one which had little to no eye muscle activity. There often was a bit of hesitation with deliberate smiles. Laughter was also classified as either being spontaneous or deliberate. Spontaneous laughter occurred with a spontaneous smile whilst a deliberate laugh was categorized as so because it lacked a spontaneous smile. The scale of measure for subjects was nominal with two categories whereas a ratio scale was used for smiling and laughter. The coding scheme used in this study was ‘0’ represented females and ‘1’ represented males.


The sample size for the study was 30 groups (M=13.9, SD=5.208). The lowest number of observed smiles and laughter was 3 with a rate per minute of 0.2 whilst the greatest number was 25 with a rate per minute of 0.049. The descriptive statistics met expectations as women displayed the highest number of behaviors observed. The lowest observed number of the social behaviors was a bit of an outlier to other collected data but other than that, there was no real unusual patterns.

An independent sample t-test was conducted to compare the number of smiles and laughter in females versus in males. Results of the t test revealed that results were not statistically significant for females (M=14.6, SD=6.174) and males (M=13.2, SD=4.127); t2(8) =0.730, p=0.471. Based on the collected data, females overall were observed as more frequently smiling and laughing. When possible, the target of subjects was noted and in the case of females, their targets were mostly males. Still, the hypothesis is not supported since males were also observed utilizing these behaviors towards females.


The hypothesis for this study was that smiling and laughter were solely used by women as sexual advertisement towards men. Observations revealed that women displayed the two behaviors more often than men, but it cannot be said that solely women used smiling and laughter as sexual advertisement. It is merely proven that women are more likely to which previous studies already suggested. These results merely confirmed that idea. Thus, they would be better fitting to a prediction concerning which sex is more likely to smile and laugh.

The importance of this study and the ones before it is the provided insight on humans’ relationships. As mentioned before, smiling and laughter are ways of communicating. They strengthen connections between individuals and can create relationships, platonic or romantic. In terms of sexual advertisement, the importance of understanding smiling and laughter’s effect is that it provides researchers with the knowledge on what draws certain people together. By knowing if women specifically are displaying these behaviors, researchers learn the different ways sexes may build relationships as well as what techniques are more effective.

The nature of this research question was group comparison. Therefore, an observational design was used. With no manipulation nor control from the researcher, there are numerous extraneous factors that may have affected the results. Individuals may have had something that happened to them which altered the likeliness of them smiling or laughing on that particular day. Still, this design seemed best fitting since the study wanted to find out whether or not solely women were utilizing the behaviors to sexually advertise themselves without researcher manipulation.

Coding scheme did not have an effect as the only one used for this study was the simple ‘0’ is female and ‘1’ is male. Operational definitions also likely did not have an effect since they merely categorized smiles as spontaneous or deliberate. Both of which were included in the data collected.

A limitation of this study would be the number of subjects observed. 30 is a relatively small number although it is less time consuming and made sure an equal amount of observations was made for both sexes. With more data collected, accuracy is increased as a larger number lowers chances of outliers swaying data. Another limitation is that observations were made of only mixed-sex groups. By observing both same-sex and mixed-sex groups, researchers will have data encompassing a wider of variety of individuals which again, the more available data, the more accurate results are likely to be.

For future research, it is recommended that more observations are made over a longer period of time. Location may also need to be changed to observe a greater range of ages. It is important for future researchers to try to minimize outside factors that may affect data if they do choose to use an observational design. If attempting to recreate this current study, it is suggested that the reactions of targets are also recorded as this would show the effectiveness of smiling and laughter.

Both sexes may be utilizing the behaviors; however, only one may be successfully promoting themselves. A different research design altogether may be better in terms of focusing on the effectiveness of smiling and laughter. Volunteers can be directed to smile and laugh at certain individuals whose reactions can then be recorded. This study would not account for spontaneous smiling and laughter though. Researchers may also want to consider investigating whether these behaviors are used deliberately or non-deliberately which would call more naturalistic type studies such as observational. From there, researchers could investigate why some people may display these behaviors whilst others do not.

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