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'Expressions of Positive Emotion in Women's College Yearbook Pictures and Their Relationship to

Personality and Life Outcomes Across Adulthood'


LeeAnne Harker and Dacher Keltner
University of California, Berkeley

Published: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (2001), Vol 80(1), 112-124

This study examined college yearbook photos of 141 women at age 21 to determine whether positive emotionality was related to personality traits, observer responses, marital outcomes, and personal well-being over the following 30-year period. The women were contacted again at age 27, 43, and 52. At each follow-up, they provided health and demographic information; completed personality inventories; and answered questions on a variety of topics, including marriage, family, social roles, and work. Positive emotional expressions were professionally coded and focused on the actions of two facial muscles that relate to a genuine smile, called a 'Duchenne' smile. This involves the movement of muscles surrounding the eyes and results in crow's-feet, raised cheeks, and bagging under the eyes. Smiles lacking genuine positive emotion do not include the contraction of the muscles around the eye area. All but 3 of the women smiled in their yearbook photographs and 50 were Duchenne smiles. 


Those women who displayed more positive emotion in their yearbook pictures were more likely to be married by age 27, less likely to have remained single into middle adulthood, and more likely to have satisfying marriages 30 years later. Positive emotional expression also predicted high scores for well-being at ages 21, 27, 43, and 52. Across young and middle adulthood, women prone to expressing positive emotions experienced fewer psychological and physical difficulties, had better relations with others, and generally felt more satisfied with their lives.  Could the better life outcomes be the result of these women's good looks rather than their Duchenne smile? The researchers found that good looks had no relationship with the marital status or the life satisfaction.


Over time, women who expressed more positive emotion in their yearbook pictures became more organised, mentally focused, and achievement-oriented and less susceptible to repeated and prolonged experiences of negative emotions.  

Positive emotional expression in the yearbook pictures also related positively to the personality traits of affiliation and competence (e.g. cheerfulness, contentment, interpersonal warmth), which reflect good interpersonal and cognitive skills, respectively.  Positive emotional expression also related to decreased negative emotionality.  The finding that positive emotional expression predicted increases in competence and decreases in negative emotionality is some of the first evidence indicating that emotion may contribute to the development of personality in adulthood.

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