Smiling fighters lose more often... It's science


UFC fighter weigh ins used to be a minor part of the show. Now they have grown to the point where thousands clamor for a look at the fighters. Among those looking most carefully are two scientists, who analyzed hundreds of images from dozens of weigh ins, for science.

The pair wanted to see if there was a correlation between facial expression and preformance - is there a game face that shows advantage? There is, and it beats the odds.

Michael Kraus and Teh-Way David Chen recruited four coders to assess the presence of smiles, and smile intensity, in photographs taken before 152 fights. Fighter smiles were mostly "non-Duchenne", with little or no crinkling around the eyes. The researchers wanted to test the idea that in this context, smiles are an involuntary signal of submission and lack of aggression.

Consistent with the researchers' predictions, fighters who smiled more intensely prior to a fight were more likely to be knocked down in the clash, to be hit more times, and to be wrestled to the ground by their opponent). On the other hand, fighters with neutral facial expressions pre-match were more likely to excel and dominate in the fight the next day.

These associations between facial expression and fighting performance held even after controlling for betting behaviour by fans, which suggests a fighter's smile reveals information about their lack of aggression beyond what is known by experts. Incidentally, smaller fighters smiled more often, consistent with the study's main thesis, but smiling was still linked with poorer fight performance after factoring out the role of size.

If fighters' smiles are a sign of weakness, there's a chance opponents may pick up on this cue, which could boost their own performance, possibly through increased confidence or aggression.

Read entire article...
Download entire study... (PDF)
Kraus, M., and Chen, T. (2013). A Winning Smile? Smile Intensity, Physical Dominance, and Fighter Performance. Emotion DOI: 10.1037/a0030745


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Recent Comments »

Jive Turkey site profile image  

3/15/13 10:08 PM by Jive Turkey

I would think acting casual would also have a subconscious effect on your fighters as well with regard to maintaining composure, relaxing, ect. As much as we give out non-verbal cues, we can also influence ourselves with conscious non-verbal actions

dakotajudo site profile image  

3/15/13 5:40 PM by dakotajudo

Oh my.Anyway, sometime back in that mess I proposed a replication of the experiment. I'm an experimentalist - if you believe there's an issue with a published study, try to replicate it. This is an easily replicated study.So, there should be new data online - who wants to score pictures? I'm for collecting data; if interested, feel free to PM me (or offsite at - I don't know if I'll try to follow AssAssassin's meltdown any further). I've got a double-blind protocol layed out, in my mind.HexRei, I think you're on the right track. Sometimes, when we're doing some intense conditioning, I advise my athletes to try to act "causal", if that's an appropriate term, in between rounds. It may come a day, in competition, that they're as tired as they feel in training, but there'll be an opponent across the mat, and they wouldn't want to give him a clue about their internal state.In other words, don't show weakness. This paper simply identifies a less obvious sign.

HexRei site profile image  

3/15/13 5:28 PM by HexRei

Before it got really dumb I thought his main point was about correllation vs causation, but in this case, I don't think that's important. Is anyone suggesting fighters should stop smiling so they lose less? I don't think so. The correllation is what is interesting from a fan perspective because of what it might reveal about the fighters. I mean are we going to argue that we don't have physical cues and traits? There are entire industries that revolve around reading people. I'm not saying I believe this study is meaningful but ffs, can we consider it on its own merits

10er4life site profile image  

3/15/13 5:11 PM by 10er4life

Is GSP smiling?

MentaL site profile image  

3/15/13 5:11 PM by MentaL

Big rig smiled too.

Dodge135 site profile image  

3/15/13 4:59 PM by Dodge135

looks like DFW is holding back Joe Hogan.

AssAssassin site profile image  

3/15/13 11:24 AM by AssAssassin

Just because you referenced Doctor math, here are some opinions on the topic.Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) said, "The universe cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. Without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth." Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) referred to mathematics as "the Queen of the Sciences." Benjamin Peirce (1809–1880) called mathematics "the science that draws necessary conclusions."David Hilbert said of mathematics: "We are not speaking here of arbitrariness in any sense. Mathematics is not like a game whose tasks are determined by arbitrarily stipulated rules. Rather, it is a conceptual system possessing internal necessity that can only be so and by no means otherwise."

Bearded Collie Herds Orca site profile image  

3/15/13 11:21 AM by Bearded Collie Herds Orca

You'll notice if you scroll down on that page that 3 Math PhDs had 3 different responses. I'm in the latter ones camp, but ya, ceasefire I guess.