Being rejected by peers, friends and even family members may give people the added advantage of spotting a "fake" when they encounter one. A Miami University study published in the October issue of the journal Psychological Science shows people who have faced rejection have an enhanced ability to determine whether the "happy" face before them is genuine.
The research found that subjects who were manipulated to feel rejection were able to distinguish a fake smile from a real one nearly 80 percent of the time. Researchers studied 32 subjects, 17 women and 15 men.
"This seems to be a skill we've acquired through evolution," said Michael Bernstein, a Miami doctoral student in social psychology and one of the researchers. "Living in groups several hundreds of years ago was extremely important to survival. Being kicked out of the group was like death, so they became very good at reading facial expressions and social cues. People these days who are rejected are in a dangerous place because of evolutional pressure to find their way back into a group."
Bernstein and three other Miami graduate students -Christina Brown, Donald Sacco, and Steven Young-along with Heather Claypool, assistant professor of psychology, conducted the study. Some in the group initially thought the outcome would be just the opposite.
"Some thought the subjects who had been rejected would latch on to any sign of positivity and accept the insincere smiles as genuine," Bernstein said. "But it's clear we're equipped with radar for identifying who is open to affiliation and who is not."
According to Bernstein, real smiles are incredibly difficult to fake because a real smile is an automatic response to a positive feeling. He says if you can tell the difference between a real and fake smile, you can identify a good person who you can relate with, and weed out the others.