Here’s one for the Holden Caulfields of the world: If you’re good at spotting fake smiles, you’ve probably been given the cold shoulder a lot in the past. Scientists at Miami University in Ohio found that the memory of social rejection makes a person more wary of phony goodwill.
The researchers enlisted 32 people and asked some to write down a situation in which they’d felt accepted, while others were asked to note a situation in which they’d felt excluded. A football player, for example, wrote about an injury that prevented him from playing, and the subsequent rejection he felt from his football buddies.
The subjects, now primed with either fuzzy feelings of acceptance or chilly feelings of rejection, were shown video clips of “happy” people. The acceptance group spotted fake smiles about 60 percent of the time, while the rejection group spotted them about 80 percent of the time.
Some of the researchers expressed surprise at their results: They had thought that the rejects would be so desperate for affection that they would’ve latched on to any signs of friendliness, genuine or not. But instead, those who’d suffered rejection were more careful to avoid repeating the same mistakes, and so they focused more on facial expressions. The researchers concluded that the key to spotting a fake smile is to look at the eyes—which, of course, is exactly what Tyra has been telling us all along.