Leaders’ smiles reflect cultural differences in ideal affect

Jeanne L. TSAI, Jen Ying Zhen ANG, Elizabeth BLEVINS, Julia GOERNANDT, Helene H. FUNG, Da JIANG, Julian ELLIOTT, Anna KÖLZER, Yukiko UCHIDA, Yi-Chen LEE, Yicheng LIN, Xiulan ZHANG, Yolande GOVINDAMA, Lise HADDOUK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)


Cultures differ in the emotions they teach their members to value (“ideal affect”). We conducted 3 studies to examine whether leaders’ smiles reflect these cultural differences in ideal affect. In Study 1, we compared the smiles of top-ranked American and Chinese government leaders, chief executive officers, and university presidents in their official photos. Consistent with findings that Americans value excitement and other high-arousal positive states more than Chinese, American top-ranked leaders (N = 98) showed more excited smiles than Chinese top-ranked leaders (N = 91) across occupations. In Study 2, we compared the smiles of winning versus losing political candidates and higher versus lower ranking chief executive officers and university presidents in the United States and Taiwan/China. American leaders (N = 223) showed more excited smiles than Taiwanese/Chinese leaders (N = 266), regardless of election outcome or ranking. In Study 3, we administered self-report measures of ideal affect in college student samples from 10 different nations (N = 1,267) and then 8 years later, coded the smiles that legislators from those nations showed in their official photos (N = 3,372). The more nations valued excitement and other high arousal positive states, the more their leaders showed excited smiles; similarly, the more nations valued calm and other low-arousal positive states, the more their leaders showed calm smiles. These results held after controlling for national differences in democratization, human development, and gross domestic product per capita. Together, these findings suggest that leaders’ smiles reflect the affective states valued by their cultures. Copyright © 2015 American Psychological Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-195
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


Gross Domestic Product
Asian Americans
Human Development
Self Report


Tsai, J. L., Ang, J. Y. Z., Blevins, E., Goernandt, J., Fung, H. H., Jiang, D., . . . Haddouk, L. (2016). Leaders’ smiles reflect cultural differences in ideal affect. Emotion, 16(2), 183-195. doi: 10.1037/emo0000133


  • Culture
  • Emotion
  • Ideal affect
  • Leaders
  • Smiles