Reduced willingness to approach genuine smilers in social anxiety explained by potential for social evaluation, not misperception of smile authenticity

Cogn Emot. 2019 Nov;33(7):1342-1355. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2018.1561421. Epub 2018 Dec 26.


We investigate perception of, and responses to, facial expression authenticity for the first time in social anxiety, testing genuine and polite smiles. Experiment 1 (N = 141) found perception of smile authenticity was unaffected, but that approach ratings, which are known to be reduced in social anxiety for happy faces, are more strongly reduced for genuine than polite smiles. Moreover, we found an independent contribution of social anxiety to approach ratings, over and above general negative affect (state/trait anxiety, depression), only for genuine smiles, and not for polite ones. We argue this pattern of results can be explained by genuine smilers signalling greater potential for interaction - and thus greater potential for the scrutiny that is feared in social anxiety - than polite smiles. Experiment 2 established that, relative to polite smilers, genuine smilers are indeed perceived as friendlier and likely to want to talk for longer if approached. Critically, the degree to which individual face items were perceived as wanting to interact correlated strongly with the amount that social anxiety reduced willingness to approach in Experiment 1. We conclude it is the potential for social evaluation and scrutiny signalled by happy expressions, rather than their positive valence, that is important in social anxiety.

Keywords: Duchenne; Facial expression; genuine; positive valence; social anxiety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Smiling / psychology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult