One Small Thing That Makes You More Trustworthy, Attractive, and Intelligent



Building trust among others is something we all need to do, whether it’s among sales prospects, co-workers, potential business partners, or anyone else. Sometimes we have face-to-face contact, sometimes we use digital means, like live or recorded video. A recent study by French and German scientists shows there’s one simple thing we can do to increase our apparent trustworthiness. And, as a bonus, we’ll seem more attractive and intelligent, too.

What is that simple technique? You need to smile.

But, before you paste a grin on your face, you should know that not every smile is effective.

First, the setup… The researchers recorded videos of subjects participating in a trust game. In this common psychology experiment, two subjects send money back and forth, and the amount may be multiplied by the researcher. At a couple of points, the subjects can decide on the amount to send or simply to keep it all. In high trust conditions, the subjects will send more and potentially gain more.

in this experiment, the subjects introduced themselves with a short video of themselves. They knew they would profit if the other subject trusted them, so they were motivated to be persuasive in their video. All subjects used the same memorized text for their short video, so any differences were in the way they conveyed the identical message.

Social Smiles vs. True Smiles

One aspect of the experimental setup that Neuromarketing readers will find interesting is that the smiles of each subject were analyzed using a commerical facial analysis tool, FaceReader 5 from Noldus.

The objective of the analysis was to identify social smiles, which we consciously create by turning up the corners of our mouth, and true smiles.

True smiles are more involuntary and involve a variety of facial muscles, notably the zygomaticus major.

I find it interesting that while marketers debate the value of automated facial coding to gauge emotions, academics are applying it in their research.

Trust Me, I’m Smiling

The researchers found that true smiles increased trust compared to social smiles. The lift wasn’t huge, but it was significant.

smile effec

Although the experiment was primarily aimed at evaluating trust effects, those subjects with real smiles were also judged to be more attractive and more intelligent, too.

One Small Thing That Makes You More Trustworthy, Attractive, & Intelligent Share on X

Work on Your Smile

While there’s debate among scientists as to whether an individual can artificially produce a “true” smile, it seems apparent to me that film actors do this all the time.

As you work on your trust smile, remember that it’s not just the mouth corner thing you do when you meet a stranger (or even someone you don’t like). Concentrate on involving your whole face.

And, take a lesson from the big screen actors who convincingly create a whole range of emotions. They don’t focus on specific muscle groups in their faces, but rather on experiencing the emotion they are supposed to convey.

So, when you are meeting someone in person or recording a video, think about something that really makes you smile and your true smile will shine through.

  1. Ed McCullough says

    R.D. Laing said that cognitive dissonance in parents – a conflict and disagreement between that which they are really feeling and that which their facial expressions and vocal tones and body language indicate they are feeling – is the main cause of the development of schizophrenia in children.

    We need to be so careful in giving advice about presenting because it is so easy to fall into the cognitive dissonance trap.

    Rather than a trust smile vs. a social smile, might we rather simply say a real smile vs a phony smile? I mean what the heck – why not call a spade a spade, right?

    I’m reminded of some advice I received from a famous photographer who took amazing headshots of actors and celebrities in New York City.

    She said she would ask them to smile and nine times out of ten their brains would go directly to the muscles around their mouths regardless of what they were feeling.

    She would tell them to forget about their mouths and take a deep breath.

    Instead, she said, I want you to go to your heart and I want you to smile with your heart. And nothing puts a smile in our hearts like love. She asked them to find a place of love in their hearts for themselves, for the camea and for everyone on the other side of the camera. Then she asked them to send that heart smile out through their eyes and forget about their mouths altogether.

    She captured the most amazing, intimate, honest, revealing, natural, heartfelt smiles you have ever seen.

    So, Grasshopper, rather than think of something that makes you smile when you meet with a client (that causes an element of disconnect because you’re focused on something other than them), might we suggest that you get grounded in a love space in your heart, that you connect with a love for yourself there and then you allow your eyes to naturally express heartfelt love and affection for your client?

    The paradox of it all being that you need to connect with your clients in a way that says I love you just because I love you and not because I want anything from you and then they’ll give you anything you want.

    Thank you.


    I have spoken.

    Carry on.



    1. Roger Dooley says

      Great points, Ed. That’s kind of what I was getting at when I talked about actors and needing to get into the right emotional state. If you make yourself happy to meet someone, you’ll be happy and really smile.

      There’s also research that shows your facial expression can actually change your emotional state. People forced to smile by gripping a pencil with their teeth saw an increase in positive emotion. So, even a forced smile may do a little good. 🙂

  2. Newton Lima says

    Awesome and Very interesting!

  3. Soehret says

    Hi Roger, again a interesting post you shared with us. During my years of working with clients I figured out that being genuine is the key to gain trust. Ppl can go to as many coaching sessions as they want to “learn” smiling, sales know how, how to win a persons trust. There is a simple shortcut to people’s heart: have positive feelings for people. What you feel & think about the other person or your intention of the interaction finds a miraculous nonverbal way to speak. You can’t cheat yourself, you can’t fake your smile.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Can’t agree more about authenticity vs. faking it, Soehret!

  4. Scott Dailey says

    Great read, Roger. Kudos for substantiating this topic with science. I find the only way I predictably disarm buyers — skeptical, threatened buyers — is to truly smile. The most unhappy people I’ve ever known have a capacity for the social smile. The requisite smile is done to death and actually ends up being more harmful than just grimacing, I sometimes feel. A conciliatory smile is menacing to an untrusting prospect. So the cracked corners thing, I’ve often found, is more harmful than just straight-facing it. The true smile, while not surprisingly, more valuable in earning trust, is just a facial manifestation of our love for whatever we’re in the throes of doing. I love sales and marketing for instance, so I gush when I’m up to my elbows in it.

    Terrific reminder to find what you love and enjoy the organic benefits of the true smiles doing it generates! Wooooo!

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience, Scott!

  5. Steve Genco says

    Yes, apparent trustworthiness, that’s what we need more of!
    (You can’t see me smiling, but I am, trust me).

    Always enjoy these little nuggets you find, Roger, but this one did make me laugh.

  6. shahzebh says

    Great read, Roger. Kudos for substantiating this topic with science. I find the only way I predictably disarm buyers — skeptical, threatened buyers — is to truly smile

  7. Edwin says

    Your smile just may be your first and most important brand ambassador.

  8. Paul says

    Enjoyed this read, it’s painful to see a fake smile and very “off putting” as far as the trust factor goes. Thanks for sharing. Have tweeted this post.


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