If you want to know whether your marriage will
survive, look at your spouse's yearbook photos.
Psychologists have found that how much people smile in old
photographs can predict their later success
In one test, the researchers looked at people's college
yearbook photos, and rated their smile intensity from 1 to
10. None of the people who fell within the top 10 percent
of smile strength
had divorced, while within the bottom 10 percent of smilers,
almost one in four had had a marriage that ended, the researchers
say. (Scoring was based on the stretch in two muscles: one
that pulls up on the mouth, and one that creates wrinkles
around the eyes.)
In a second trial, the research team asked people over age
65 to provide photos from their childhood (the average age
in the pictures was 10 years old). The researchers scored
each person's smile, and found that only 11 percent of
the biggest smilers had been divorced, while 31 percent of
the frowners had experienced a broken
Overall, the results indicate that people who frown in photos
are five times more likely to get a divorce than people who
While the connection is striking, the researchers stress
that they can't conclude anything about the cause of the
"Maybe smiling represents a
positive disposition towards life," said study
leader Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw
University in Indiana. "Or maybe smiling people
attract other happier people, and the combination may lead
to a greater likelihood of a long-lasting marriage. We don't
really know for sure what's causing it."
Hertenstein said he has considered other explanations, such
as the possibility that people who smile more often tend to
attract more friends, and a larger support network makes it
easier to keep a marriage healthy. Or it could be that people
who smile when a photographer tells them to are more likely
to have obedient personalities, which could make marriage
The results of the study fit into a larger pattern of research
that has found many personality characteristics can be determined
from very thin slices of behavior. Basically, we often reveal
ourselves in the most subtle, simple ways.
And smiling in photographs has been shown to be correlated
with a number of traits, including a generally
"I think [our results] go along with a lot of the literature
that's been coming out over the last five to 10 years,
which shows that positive emotionality is incredibly important
in our lives," Hertenstein told LiveScience.
"There are many, many beneficial outcomes to a positive
The findings are also notable because they found a connection
between photos taken when people were young and marriage outcomes
that sometimes occurred much later.
"It feeds into this idea that what's occurring
earlier in our lives in terms of our present situation and
our mental state can predict things that occur decades later,"
Hertenstein said. "Showing the continuity in who we are
is really important."
The study is detailed in the April 5 issue of the journal
Motivation and Emotion.