A new study seems to confirm what Clint Eastwood has known all along: tough guys don’t smile. Michael W. Kraus (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Teh-Way David Chen suspected Dirty Harry’s grim-faced success was more than a coincidence, so they checked out some modern-day mano-a-mano for the evidence. Where better for big brutality than the Ultimate Fighting Championships in mixed martial arts? Examining pre-fight photos, they found that a fighter who smiled was far, far more likely to lose. Well, really, to get his ass positively kicked: smiling scrappers were hit more, knocked down more, and lost more by knockout or simple surrender.
As with any observation, the reasons are harder to know. Is the smiler nervous to begin with? Does the stone-faced opponent sense fear in a smiling face the way other animals smell it? What if they both smile? (The researchers take care of this by measuring smile intensity–and they are good at it, if not as good as say, F. Scott Fitzgerald.) Almost all Kraus’s and Chen’s speculation about smiling losers–speculation that jibes with any 7th-grade bully’s innate understanding–was borne out by the data. One would have to think they smiled at this. Or as Mr. Eastwood’s parlance, it must have made their day.