For the new study, Bernstein and his colleagues asked 17 women and 15 men, all undergraduate students, to watch a video of people smiling. Some of the smiles were fake.
Some of the participants were told to remember a time when they felt "rejected or excluded." Others were instructed to think about a time when they felt "accepted or included," or simply recall what they did that morning.
Those who thought about being rejected were most likely to detect fake smiles; those in the other groups performed at about the same level.
"We think the reason why this happens is that being rejected is a very dangerous situation to be in," Bernstein said. "You're in a precarious state. You're without a group. From an evolutionary perspective, that's an extremely dangerous place to be."
Those who are rejected may be more careful about finding a new group to belong to and become more perceptive, Bernstein added.
Frank said the new study falls into a category of research that aims to understand human emotions.
"From a practical point of view, it has some implications for helping us understand why people make some of the choices they do, when they may seek out others, and when they may reject others, even if it may not be in their long-term interests to do so," he said.
The study was published in the October issue of the journal Psychological Science.
For more on human emotions, visit the Argosy University.
SOURCES: Michael Bernstein, graduate student, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; Mark Frank, Ph.D., director, Communication Science Center, University of Buf
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