Facial Expressions and Personality Traits

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crabby_womanHaving a happy expression will make you appear more confident in your interactions. This is according to a 2018 study by Ueda and Yoshikawa that found a couple of key findings: First, people with angry facial expressions are seen as having a more dominant and aggressive personality. They are therefore seen as being able to dominate others by physical strength and behaviors. Meanwhile, those with happy expressions are seen as being more dominant than those expressing other emotions due to having a relatively higher social standing than others they are interacting with.

The study involved showing participants pictures of individuals expressing different emotions and participants were asked to rate those pictures based on perceived dominance  In the one person pictures, people with the angrier expressions were seen as more dominant.  Contrary to expectations, the results were different when participants were shown a picture of a two-person interaction. In the two-person interaction, the person who appeared happy was seen as being more dominant than the angry person.

The difference in how people evaluate dominance for individuals versus pairs shows that being more dominant in a social setting is not the result of appearing more ready to dominate others by physical strength and behaviors. Whether a person appears dominant through expressing angry or happy emotions may give insight into their potential behavior. People who appear angry may try to use physical strength and behaviors to obtain their goals. People who appear happy in an interaction, particularly during an argument, may be better able to hide their anger, which allows them to remain calm and appear confident. Their happiness could also imply that they are winning the argument. It is important for people to be able to distinguish between these two types of dominance so that they can understand how they appear in their interactions and so they can evaluate the personality and social standing of others, modifying their own behaviors accordingly.


Ueda, Y., & Yoshikawa, S. (2018). Beyond personality traits: Which facial expressions imply dominance in two-person interaction scenes? Emotion, 18(6), 872-885. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000286


Unknown-225x300by Torrey Lucido

Torrey is a junior majoring in Psychology at The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with and emphasis in Brain, Behavior, and Health. After graduating she plans to earn a graduate degree in occupational therapy and work with patients with brain injury and developmental disabilities.