Carter Lowe Creator, entrepreneur, and self-care advocate
Reading time: 6 min

Surprising clue about who will win in battle

Menacing postures and eye-to-eye gazes have become an indispensable component before the start of the fight. How do you know who will win in a fight?

Menacing postures and staring "eye to eye" became an indispensable part of the fighting ritual before the start of the fight. Two fighters, who had never even thought about beating each other's memory and other organs before, stand in a pose opposite each other, raise their clenched fists and look intently and menacingly into each other's eyes, fixing their eyes while the cameras chirp. Such a performance has always seemed like something of a lure to the media, but new research by psychologists from the University of Illinois suggests that this theater may be hiding the key to unraveling the outcome of the upcoming fight.

Researchers have hypothesized that there is something in the facial expressions of the fighters during this confrontation that indicates their competitive ability. This is a subtle and, perhaps, unintentional and wordless signal of obedience from one boxer to another. Recognition of the strength of the opponent. Smile.

Facial expression has long been considered a reliable indicator of a person's true feelings. Darwin, in his book On the Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, writes that such expressions evolved precisely in connection with the fact that they perform this important function. Smiling attracts experiential attention and is generally interpreted as a signal of a person's immediate and long-term well-being. The authors of one extremely interesting study showed that the frequency and "authenticity" of smiles in photographs in school albums indicates a higher level of subjective well-being after many years.

But a smile can mean different things in different situations. Scientists were especially interested in what a smile could mean when one of the rivals demonstrates it. They suggested that this was not a fighter's signal of good humor, but a submissive signal, demonstrating reduced aggression and a weakened willingness to fight the enemy. Previous studies confirm this possibility. In primates, bared teeth are a signal of submission and submissiveness, a means of preventing dangerous and aggressive physical confrontation with others. Another study showed that in humans, higher testosterone levels are correlated with the intensity of smiling: the higher this level, the less smiles. In another study, people smiled more when they were of lower social status.

So, if a fighter knows that the opponent is stronger than him, he can reveal this secret by going face to face with his opponent in a duel of views. If a fighter smiles, he understands that he is in trouble. Further, scientists have made the assumption that such a demonstration of a smile can predict the outcome of the meeting. A smiling fighter is less aggressive and less likely to lose. And his opponent, having received a powerful incentive from the manifestation of such weakness of the opponent, will act more aggressively and get more chances to win.

To test this idea, scientists first photographed and graded 152 pre-match MMA fighters by their intensity of smiles during a face-to-face match, and then compared these scores to objective fight statistics taken from Variables such as punching efficiency, tackle efficiency, throws, and knockouts were analyzed for both fighters.

As expected, the intensity of the smile correctly predicts the outcome of the fight and the level of hostility in the fight. Interestingly, a smile indicates both a decrease in the hostility of the smiling person and an increase in the hostility of his opponent. In other words, both fighters seem to tune in to the information that is conveyed by the smile before the fight. These results were true even when the difference in experience and skill (i.e. betting on fighters) and strength (height and weight) were tested. Do not rush to radically change your tactics on the sweepstakes, but keep in mind that a smile matters, as well as objective indicators.

To confirm the correlation data experimentally, the scientists conducted a second study in which they showed participants the same photographs as in the first study. But this time, the photos have been altered to either show a smile or a neutral expression. After the screening, the researchers asked the participants to rank the fighters using their physical characteristics, as well as impressions of hostility, aggressiveness, and the desire to dominate. As expected, participants rated the smiling fighters as less hostile, less aggressive, and less dominant. The important point here is the following. The second study indicates that the results of the first study are determined by the intensity of the smiles of the fighters, and not by any other characteristics of their bodies and faces.

The interpretation is that the good guys finish last. But this is not entirely true. The authors also studied the question of how the intensity of a smile in a photo before a fight determines dominance in the ring and the outcome of future fights. If smiling simply helps us separate mildness from aggressiveness, then nice and smiling guys must consistently perform worse than their hostile and aggressive rivals. But it turned out that this was not the case. Smiles depend on the situation and context. They say something about the power dynamics just between this pair of fighters, not what kind of people they are in general. A fighter who smiles at opponent A, knowing that he is stronger than him, may look with a stone face at the weaker opponent B (who in such circumstances will be reduced to the position of a grinning idiot).

Scientists have made it clear that they do not know exactly why the fighters smile. But they suspect that it comes out of them not on purpose. But it is possible that in other circumstances, fighters deliberately portray humility and subordination in order to calm the opponent and create a false sense of superiority in him. In some circumstances, it is better to keep the enemy at close range. However, the findings suggest that combat is not the only such circumstance. Whether we're talking about strategy or something else, you can't win a match with just a smile.