How little we value our head movements, and how wrong we are to do so. Most of us think a smile is enough to win over strangers and make friends. Well, it may be, provided you’re ‘smizing’ instead of just smiling. The former, in case you didn’t know, means ‘smiling with your eyes’. Officially, it’s called a ‘Duchenne smile’ and involves simultaneously contracting your zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of your mouth) and your orbicularis oculi muscle (which puffs up your cheeks and forms crow’s feet around the eyes). A mere smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle, and runs the risk of ending up as a grimace.
In the old days, a snarl-masquerading-as-a-smile used to be called the ‘Pan Am Smile’, since the stewardesses of the now-defunct airline invariably greeted every passenger on board with that blink-and-you’ve-missed-it movement of the mouth. Today, you could call it the ‘Botox Beam’, where prolonged users of botulinum toxin paralyse the muscles around the eyes in an effort to get rid of the aforementioned crow’s feet and end up smiling only with their lips, looking much like death warmed up.
But I digress. I didn’t mean to mouth off about lip movements. I’m here to discuss a new study that shows that while smizing is good, it’s not the only gesture that can help you induct new members into your personal constituency. After showing people several video clips of female figures that are nodding, shaking their head, or staying still, two Japanese professors have discovered that viewers (both men and women) find individuals who gently nod their heads as 30 per cent more likable and 40 per cent more approachable than those who shake their heads or just stay still.
The study is important in two ways. One, it’s the first to demonstrate that even a subtle head motion by me can spark a positive reaction in you. Two, it shows that though shaking the head usually means no in almost all nations (bar ours and Bulgaria), people don’t perceive head shakers as any less favourably than those who stand motionless.
Still, the researchers caution against our going off on a nodding spree till they do more studies involving male figures, real faces (these were computer-simulated ones) and observers from different cultures. In any case, as body language experts tell us, there is nodding and there’s nodding. While the first implies that the listener is truly interested in the speaker’s words and would like to hear more, too much nodding can produce a very different effect. Nod vigorously for a length of time without saying anything and you run the risk of coming across as someone who’s actually zoned out and doesn’t have the faintest clue about what’s being said. The secret then is to gently nod, intermittently, as you listen to a speaker, and then interrupt, even if it’s to disagree, to show the other that you really are listening.And since the jury is still out on the power of the nod, maybe you can throw in a smize every now and then.