Wherever you look online these days you cannot move for smiling people. There they are in social media profiles, in headshots on websites and in images shared on the likes of Pinterest or Flickr. All around you people are smiling. But is that a good thing? Should you smile online as much as you do? Could a smile cause a problem for your website?

Smiling makes you look younger

When people smile they increase their positive brain hormones, the endorphins. And when we see someone smile, we find it hard to avoid smiling ourselves. Smiling is infectious. So if you smile on your website, the chances are the visitors to your site will also smile. You could then trigger their mirror neurons to come into action and feel as happy as you are. All positive stuff; why wouldn’t you want to smile on your website?

Well, according to new research, you might not want to smile if you need people to think you are older than you are. Psychologists from Germany have discovered that we underestimate the age of people who are smiling. When we look at a picture of someone smiling we tend to say they are younger than turns out to be the case. Overall, it seems we are pretty poor at estimating the age of people, unless their facial expression is neutral – when we tend to get it right.

So, why might you want people to estimate your age from your profile picture? Imagine you are a young software developer – smile and in the instant people land on your website they could think you are too young to have done the things you claim. Or what about the older person who is using LinkedIn to try and get a new job? Have a neutral picture and people could say “oh, she’s too old for us”. But smile, and they’ will underestimate your age, making the chances of the job a little bit higher.

It therefore means that one picture for your all your social media profiles and your web pages is simply not enough. You need to think about the impact you are trying to create and whether or not you want people to get your age right, or think you are younger.

Once more, this research shows that we really need to focus on the fine detail of what we present on our websites if we are to have the desired impact.

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