In the 19th century, smiling too much was considered a dalliance only allowed to children. An adult who smiled broadly and often was considered suspect of insanity. That all changed in the early 20th century as marketers promoted the link between smiling and happiness. A smile became the visual cue for marketers that a certain product made people happy. In response, Americans embraced their smiles and became the most smiling people in the world.

Perhaps the biggest sign of this transition came with the election of Teddy Roosevelt, the first US president that really campaigned and became known for his smile. Since then, a stunning smile full of bright white teeth has been considered requisite for leaders both in the private and public sector.

Now new research shows why Americans readily embrace leaders with broad, toothy smiles.

Excitable Boys (and Girls)

Researchers found that whether a culture’s leaders tended to smile subtly or broadly was associated with fundamental values in the culture. A society that holds positive values that are also on the excited end of the spectrum, such as enthusiasm and energy, tends to have leaders who smile broadly in pictures, showing a lot of teeth. On the other hand, societies that value soothing qualities such as calm and peacefulness tend to have leaders who smile subtly.

They established this insight by looking at social values and comparing them with the pictures of leaders. For the first phase of the experiment, they compared 98 pictures of US politicians, CEOs and university presidents and 91 pictures of Chinese counterparts. Invariably, the US leaders smiled more broadly, making a significant show of their teeth, while Chinese smiles were much more reserved and rarely showed teeth. This was confirmed in a second phase when they looked at 223 pictures of US leaders compared to 266 photos of Chinese and Taiwanese leaders. They found that these leaders showed the same disparity in smiles.

Finally, researchers wanted to expand their conclusions beyond just these two cultures. To do this, they looked at a survey of values by college students in 10 different countries, using this to establish whether a country valued “excited” or “soothing” cultural traits. They then looked at pictures of leaders from each of these countries and found that the degree to which they smiled correlated to the values expressed by college students.

Does Your Smile Show Your Leadership Potential?

As this study shows, a big beautiful smile is an essential asset for a leader in the US because it evinces your enthusiasm, energy, vigor, and health (which, we might argue, is an essential part of Teddy Roosevelt’s appeal, both at the time and as part of his ongoing legacy).

If you are uncomfortable with the appearance of your teeth and tend to show a reserved or uncomfortable smile, it can hurt your odds for recognition or promotion. A smile makeover that can give you the confidence to smile fully will help you demonstrate your other leadership characteristics and speed your climb to the top.

If you are looking for a smile makeover to help you look more promotable, please call a cosmetic dentist at Rochester Advanced Dentistry.