The subjective value of a smile alters social behavior
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Description: Natural face-to-face social behavior is difficult to explain, leading some researchers to call it the “dark matter” of psychology/neuroscience (Schilbach, et al., 2013). Here, we apply an idea from neuroeconomics to this problem, suggesting that the degree to which people subjectively value facial expressions should predict differences in their use during unconstrained interaction. Specifically, we ask whether the subjective value of smiles is malleable as a consequence of social experience and how this relates to smiling during face-to-face interactions. We found that induced feelings of social rejection caused devaluation of polite smiles but no changes in genuine-smile-value. This result predicts that rejected participants should be less responsive to social partners’ polite smiles. Indeed, participants returned fewer polite smiles when interacting with a potential rejecter, leading to poor interaction outcomes. Genuine smile reciprocity remained unchanged. Findings show that social states influence real-world interactions by changing social cue valuation, highlighting a potential mechanism for understanding variation in social behavior.