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“There are certain muscles in the face that get activated for real enjoyment smiles and others for forced smiles. People can often pick up on these forced smiles,” says Witkower. That being said: “Even a fake smile can increase likability as it indicates the person wants to be warm, which is also very important.”
Donald Trump’s lurking gait and signature handshake “yank” have become the butt of jokes, but those traits may be advantageous to his image. “Those who encroach on others’ personal space tend to be colder, angry or more controlling,” says Witkower. “The fact that this has received so much public attention shows that people perceive this behaviour as dominant.”
In a dominant politician, who may influence behaviour through aggression and intimidation, “we see a downward head tilt with a directed gaze, which gives a menacing and aggressive sort of vibe,” says Witkower. Alternatively, there’s the “boss you really look up to,” a.k.a the politician you might actually want to hang out with. Those people often use the upward head tilt, which also has the effect of increasing your apparent size. “You often see the combination of an upward head tilt with a smile, which has very large effects on perceptions of prestige.”
“Non-verbal expansiveness—behaviour that increases your apparent physical size, such as having your arms extended away from your body, or puffing out your chest—has huge implications for how competent someone is perceived to be by others,” says Witkower.
“One of the single most important factors is authenticity. Media training is important but you can’t make a person likable and you can’t make someone into Barack Obama,” says Young. “Voters are smart and they realize when politicians are trying to be something they’re not.”
Bruce Young, managing principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, specializing in counselling public servants and corporate leaders in B.C. and Alberta.
Zachary Witkower, psychology graduate student at UBC and expert in non-verbal behaviour.
Check back for more on the provincial election—part of our May 2017 issue!