Just looking over an old study on the benefits of teeth whitening for job applicants, I saw a quote that caught my eye. A “smile psychologist” from University of California at Berkeley claimed that a bright white smile is visible from 200 feet away.
Confirming this would be great, because it would allow us to talk about how long people see your smile before you begin talking to them. Intrigued, I began to search to see if I could find support for that assertion.
Searching around, no source for this particular bit of information came up. But that didn’t stop people from citing it with significant regularity and authority. It even came out of the mouth of the CEO of a whitening toothpaste company.
Often, too, the distance is longer. 300 feet is a common variation, but it isn’t cited, either.
It seems that this is just another Internet truism. People read it and repeat it, and even a UC Berkeley professor isn’t above spreading it around a little bit here and there.
But in researching this, we did find some great information about just how impactful the smile really is.
Faster Than a Speeding Scowl
One piece of sourced information about the smile (albeit in an unpublished manuscript), is that it’s the facial expression that can be recognized the fastest. When people are given only a fraction of a second to identify an expression, it’s the smile they recognize most consistently.
This means that a smile is the least distracting expression to use when speaking. People will identify a smile faster than any other expression, giving them more time to focus on what you’re saying.
Easy on the Eyes–or Brain
Another amazing discovery about the smile is that it’s also the easiest expression for your brain to process in peripheral vision. Brain mapping showed that when trying to recognize expressions outside their primary vision, the smile is the one that was recognized the fastest (again), most reliably (again), and with the least brain drain from other tasks.
Show Your Best Smile to the World
The brain is obviously focused on the task of seeing and appraising smiles. Knowing this, we all want to make sure we have the best smile we can to share it with those around us.