Strengthening bonds and connecting with followers: A biobehavioral inventory of political smiles

Patrick A. Stewart, Erik P. Bucy, Marc Mehu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The smiles and affiliative expressions of presidential candidates are important for political success, allowing contenders to nonverbally connect with potential supporters and bond with followers. Smiles, however, are not unitary displays; they are multifaceted in composition and signaling intent due to variations in performance. With this in mind, we examine the composition and perception of smiling behavior by Republican presidential candidates during the 2012 preprimary period. In this paper we review literature concerning different smile types and the muscular movements that compose them from a biobehavioral perspective. We then analyze smiles expressed by Republican presidential candidates early in the 2012 primary season by coding facial muscle activity at the microlevel using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to produce an inventory of politically relevant smile types. To validate the subtle observed differences between smile types, we show viewers a series of short video clips to differentiate displays on the basis of their perceived reassurance, or social signaling. The discussion considers the implications of our findings in relation to political evaluation and communication efficacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-92
Number of pages20
JournalPolitics and the Life Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 14 2015


  • 2012 presidential election
  • FACS coding
  • Nonverbal communication
  • facial displays
  • happiness/reassurance displays
  • smiles
  • social signaling


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