rama0278: November 2011 Archives

Have a piece of cake, sweetie.

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What a hot head!
She is a sour, vengeful crone.
Thanks, honey!
Her salty language caused a huge scandal!
He was a bitter, old man...

Have you ever wondered why we use 'tasty' adjectives to describe people? It is not as if a person who has a bitter disposition actually tastes bitter! Perhaps we use them because we all tend to agree that a bitter taste is not a pleasant one. On the flip side we use words like 'honey', 'sweetie', 'sweetie pie', and 'sugar' to describe pleasant, agreeable people. But, is there a relationship between people's liking for sweet foods and their agreeableness? Believe it or not, researchers have recently conducted a robust study examining if taste preferences predict pro-social personalities and behaviors and they conclude that indeed, there is a significant correlation.

cupcake tree.jpg

Study 1 showed that ratings of strangers are higher in agreeableness if one is told that the stranger likes caramel, candy, ice cream and the like versus another food with a different (not sweet) taste. Amazing, but true! The skeptical part of me wondered if the study was sponsored by the sugar-related industry but no, the study was well-run with a large sample of university students using various controls to rule out biases and confounds.
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Studies 2 and 3 showed that agreeable people like sweet-tasting foods more than their less agreeable counterparts and that people who like sweet-tasting foods are more pro-social in their personalities, intentions and behaviors. Pro-social tendencies are those voluntary actions and behaviors that benefit others and do not foreshadow much gain for the doer. In essence, they found that people who liked sweets were more likely to do some extra work for no compensation.

Studies 4 and 5 were experiments that demonstrated that momentarily savoring a sweet food (vs. a non-sweet food or no food) increased participants' spontaneous helping behavior as well as their self-reports of agreeableness. Figure 1 shows the average number of minutes each group volunteered AFTER the purported reason for their presence in the study was completed. In that sense, it truly measures the spontaneity of their pro-social tendencies.
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I think that I WILL have that chocolate cake then!

Meier, B. P., Moeller, S. K., Riemer-Peltz, M., & Robinson, M. D. (2011, August 29). Sweet
Taste Preferences and Experiences Predict Prosocial Inferences, Personalities, and
Behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:



George Clooney.jpg

Smiling is universally associated with expressions of pleasure, joy, happiness, and amusement. As Americans, we smile at friends, loved ones, at acquaintances, at the check-out lady at the grocery store, at cameras, at good tidings, and in new surroundings, to name a few. Much of the rest of the world thinks that we smile way too much and sometimes in an inappropriate context. Excessive smiling is viewed as a sign of dishonesty or shallowness in some cultures. In Asia, smiling is a more reserved action suited to express love as well as embarrassment, anger, or confusion. Try as we might, we could never get our grandparents (Indians) to smile for the camera although they would readily smile at us.

What makes us smile? In the anatomical sense, it is the contraction of the zygomatic muscles in the cheeks that pulls the corners of the mouth outwards and upwards. That is enough to pull off a conscious, fake smile but a genuine Duchenne smile (the pictures at the ends above) requires the co-ordination of these zygomatic muscles as well as the orbicularis oculi muscle. The result is the raising of the cheeks, the corners of the mouth pulled upwards and outward, crow's feet around the eyes, bagging under the eyes and a gleam in the eyes. It is very difficult to make a Duchenne smile voluntarily and for that reason, it is seen as reflection of genuine happiness.

Now that you have the tools to spot a genuine smile, look at the pictures below and test yourself.


There have been a number of studies in the area of smiles and the results are fascinating. Paul Ekman (of Facial Action Coding (FACS) fame) has conducted studies that show that ONLY Duchenne smiles cause increased activity of the front region of the left hemisphere, the area associated with positive emotions. This finding has been replicated by Harker and Keltner who conducted a longitudinal analysis of the relationship between positive emotional expression (how the students smiled in their yearbook) with outcomes in marriage and personal well-being. The Duchenne smilers were the winners!

To test yourself further, check out this link:



Expressions of Positive Emotion in Women's College Yearbook Pictures and Their Relationship to Personality and Life Outcomes Across Adulthood
LeeAnne Harker and Dacher Keltner University of California, Berkeley
Joumal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, Vol. 80, No. 1, 112-124

Ekman, P. (2003). Darwin, Deception, and Facial Expression. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1000: 205-221. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from http://www.evenhappier.com/darwin.pdf

Wikipedia Contributors. (2011, November 5). Smile. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Smile&oldid=258939145

BBC. (n.d.). Spot the Fake Smile. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles/index.shtml

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