Psychologists have found a straightforward way to boost your likability and social success. This isn’t just about making a great first impression—it also offers some fascinating insights into our evolution.

First impressions happen incredibly fast, sometimes in less than a second. New research from Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. reveals that our facial expressions play a big role in how much people like us.

This study, published in *Scientific Reports*, was done in two parts. First, 52 participants were recorded during semi-structured video calls to capture their natural reactions and expressions to everyday situations. They were then asked to make various facial expressions aimed at achieving different social goals, like looking friendly or disagreeing without being disliked. Their facial expressivity was assessed, and their video clips were shown to 170 people who rated them on how readable and likable they were.

In the second part, researchers analyzed an existing dataset of unscripted video conversations between 1,456 strangers, where conversation partners rated how much they liked each other. These likeability ratings were then compared to the facial expressiveness of the individuals.

In both parts of the study, the people with the most expressive faces were rated as the most likable.

Eithne Kavanagh, a psychology research fellow and the study’s lead author, explained, “We think this preference could be related to facially expressive people being more predictable. If we can read another person well because they are communicating their inner thoughts and states through facial expressions, we can navigate that social relationship better and possibly form a stronger social bond.”

She also noted that this was the first large-scale study of its kind to look at facial expressiveness in real-world interactions. “Our evidence shows that facial expressivity is related to positive social outcomes. It suggests that more expressive people are more successful at attracting social partners and building relationships. It could also be important in conflict resolution.”

Why some of us are more facially expressive than others is still a bit of a mystery, but it likely starts at a young age. Facial expressiveness also seems to be related to certain personality traits.

“Our research shows that people who are more facially expressive also tend to be more agreeable, extraverted, and neurotic,” Kavanagh said. “We think it’s possible that facial expressiveness may be related to the more social nature of these traits. More agreeable and extraverted people are more socially oriented, and more neurotic people might be more socially anxious. So, these people could be using facial expressivity to bond socially with others.”

Bridget Waller, a professor of psychology at Nottingham Trent and the study’s senior author, added that these findings may shed light on why humans have such a wide range of facial expressions compared to other animals. “This research is important in evolutionary terms as it may explain why humans have developed more complex facial expressions than any other species. It helps us create stronger bonds and better navigate the social world.”

So, how can you tell how facially expressive you are?

“We think that people may not be great at judging their own facial expressivity objectively, so you would probably need a video recording of yourself, preferably conversing with another person,” Kavanagh suggested. “In the recording, try to pay attention to how much you move your facial muscles—how much you smile, raise your eyebrows, wrinkle your nose, etc., and compare that to others.”

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