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When you travel abroad, have you noticed that people smile more in some countries than in others? One reason for this has nothing to do with whether people are feeling happy or not…

According to an international study, immigration and diversity are major factors that influence smiling. When people do not speak the same language, they depend more on nonverbal communications. When I was training with Joe Navarro, he mentioned immigration was his motivation to learn how to read nonverbals when he was a child. He had just moved with his family to the U.S. from Cuba and wasn’t able to speak English well. By observing facial expressions and body language, he gained an understanding of what people were thinking and feeling.

The research indicates that in countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, where there has been a great deal of immigration historically, people are more likely to smile to show that they are friendly. It’s a nonverbal way to try to build trust and cooperation by signaling “I mean you no harm.” The researchers did not observe the smiling behavior as frequently in countries that are more homogenous, like China and Zimbabwe.

It’s important to note that the study took place in 2015. Since then, there have been a lot of tensions related to immigration in many countries. While the researchers identified the connection between historical immigration/diversity and smiling, they acknowledged that there are many other influences on smiling, such as cultural norms, sense of safety, political climate and socioeconomic factors.

In your travels, have you noticed any differences in whether people are smiling more or less than in your native country?