5 Comments »Posted on Friday 17 April 2009 at 11:30 am by Jacob Aron
In Psychology


Researchers at DePauw University in Indiana have shown that the strength of your smile in childhood photographs is an accurate predictor of divorce. In a pair of studies published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, they found that those with the brightest smiles were less likely to get divorced in later life.

Building on earlier research, the team first asked 493 university graduates to take part in their study. Participants were asked if they were currently in a committed relationship, if they ever had been in a committed relationship, and if they had ever been divorced. In addition to the questionnaire, researchers examined the participants yearbook photos and graded their smiles according to the Facival Action Coding System (FACS), which rates the movement of muscles in forming physical expressions of emotions, such as smiles. They found that those participants who scored a low “smile intensity” according to the system were most likely to be divorced.

To corroborate this evidence, the team conducted another study of 31 people from the wider population, not just university alumni. These participants were asked to send in up to eight photographs of themselves aged between 5 and 22. Any photos were allowed, including school photos, wedding photos, and photos take with their families. As an incentive, they were offered a small gift card for taking part. The FACS analysis showed a similar result to the first study, indicating that even very young childhood photographs could be an indicator of future divorce.

How exactly does this mechanism work then? The researchers admit they don’t know, but offer several hypotheses. It could be that those who smile in photographs have more stable personalities, which produces a stable relationship, or perhaps those with more positive emotionality seek out similar people for happier marriages. It might just be that people who smile in photographs smile more generally, and are better at communicating their emotions.

Whatever the reason, it seems that a childhood smile can definitely be used to predict divorce. The paper calls for more research to examine this further, and perhaps find the underlying process that control the relationship between smiling and divorce.

Hertenstein, M., Hansel, C., Butts, A., & Hile, S. (2009). Smile intensity in photographs predicts divorce later in life Motivation and Emotion DOI: 10.1007/s11031-009-9124-6

  1. 5 Comments

  2. I’ve done a rough statistical analysis,
    if this study extends to adult photographs I’m going to make the following predictions based on our blog photos:

    Jacob and Jess – Youre both definitely getting divorced
    Colin & I – Were probably ok
    Sam – Youre on the fence, cant work out if youre properly smiling in your photo or not..

    By Seth Bell on Friday 17 April, 2009 at 12:28 pm

  3. You left out Emma! She’s got a big smile though so I reckon she’s ok…

    By Jacob Aron on Friday 17 April, 2009 at 12:43 pm

  4. Another causation proposal: more stable parental relationships yield happier, better-adjusted children, who then have more stable marital relationships. Leading, of course, to happier, better-adjusted children, wash rinse repeat.

    Recommended test of hypothesis: repeat study controlling for parental divorce rates.

    By William on Friday 17 April, 2009 at 4:37 pm

  5. Mine is a very forced smile. I probably won’t get divorced; I’ll just be stuck in an unhappy marriage.

    Other breaking news: If you smell like cheese, you’re more likely to get divorced.

    By Sam Wong on Friday 17 April, 2009 at 6:18 pm

  6. Sorry Em!

    (Did remember you when “data collecting”, forgot when commenting)

    On the plus-side you’ll never get divorced.

    By Seth Bell on Friday 17 April, 2009 at 7:09 pm

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