Positive Facial Expressions in Marriage: Genuine and Non-Genuine Smiles as Predictors of Marital Satisfaction Open Access

Marital emotional functioning is one of the most important predictors of marital outcomes (e.g., marital satisfaction), which in turn has important consequences for well­being and health factors for both spouses and their children. Thus far, negative emotions (e.g., anger) have been the central focus in distinguishing dissatisfied from satisfied couples (i.e., low and high marital satisfaction). In sharp contrast, positive emotions have rarely been the target of empirical marital research, notwithstanding the sizeable body of research garnered showing a myriad of cognitive, social, psychological, and physical benefits positive emotions hold for individuals (i.e., broadenand­build theory of positive emotions). Thus, the present study examined a potentially important aspect of marital emotional functioning: the experience of positive emotion via displays of positive facial expression (i.e., genuine and nongenuine smiles), and associations with marital satisfaction. Marital satisfaction was expected to be positively associated with the display of genuine smiles, but not the display of nongenuine smiles. In a sample of 66 married spouses (33 couples), participants’ facial expressions were videotaped during pleasant and conflict conversations. Smiles were coded as either genuine or non­genuine based on the Facial Action Coding System on a second­by­second coding basis for the first three minutes of both conversations (interrater agreement: k= .93­1). Marital satisfaction was measured using the Marital Adjustment Test questionnaire (15 items; a= .8). Results showed that there was no association between the frequency of both genuine (inconsistent with hypothesis) and nongenuine (consistent with hypothesis) smiles and marital satisfaction. Follow­up exploratory analyses showed a positive association between the frequency of genuine smiles and positive emotional experiences (i.e., amusement) during both conversations, consistent with previous findings of a positive association between genuine smiles and emotional well­being. Limitations (e.g., small sample size), implications, and future directions are discussed.

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Last modified: 04/20/2018
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