Nodding more could make us more likable and approachable, according to a new study.
Two Japanese-based researchers set out to investigate the psychological impact of two head motions: nodding in approval and shaking one's head in disapproval.
Jun-ichiro Kawahara, associate professor at the Hokkaido University in Sapporo, collaborated with Takayuki Osugi, associate professor at Yamagata University in Yamagata, to test the effect of the two gestures on subjective likability and approachability.
This is not the first time that the effect of nodding is studied formally, nor is it the first time that the two researchers have worked together.
A former, influential study conducted in 2003 suggested that nodding to what an interlocutor is saying influences the listener's beliefs. Surprisingly — and somewhat counterintuitively — the study revealed that when hearing out a weak argument, people who nod more tend to disagree more with the opinion heard.
Another study examined nodding in relation to gender and status, and found that women nod a lot more than men, and that both genders tend to nod more in response to authority and people of a higher status.
In this new study — which has been published in the psychology journal Perception — the researchers asked participants to rate the likability of computer-generated figures.
Using similar computer-generated characters, Kawahara and Osugi previously collaborated to investigate the effect of bowing on subjective attractiveness. The research then "demonstrated that [the] bowing motion of computer-generated female 3-D figures enhanced perceived attractiveness."
In light of this, the authors explain, and "[g]iven that nodding and shaking head motions are used as communicative signals," the researchers hypothesized that nodding and head shaking would "modulate perceived trait impressions of model faces."
Nodding makes you 30 percent more likable
To test their hypothesis, the researchers asked 49 Japanese adults aged 18 and above to watch short clips of figures nodding, shaking their head, or staying still.
The participants then had to rate the figures' attractiveness, approachability, and likability, using a scale from 0 to 100.
Overall, the study revealed that the nodding figures were rated as 30 percent more likable and 40 percent more approachable than the motionless figures or the figures that shook their head.
"Our study also demonstrated that nodding primarily increased likability attributable to personality traits, rather than to physical appearance," Kawahara specifies.
These results were the same for both male and female participants. Shaking one's head in disapproval did not have any negative bearing on subjective likability and approachability.
"We concluded that head nodding motion is treated as information regarding approach-related motivations and enhances perceived likeability," write the authors.
To their knowledge, this is the first time that a study shows that simply seeing someone subtly move their head can positively change the observer's attitude toward that person.
The results may help with creating more likable and hospitable web avatars or humanoid robots, suggest the researchers.
"Generalizing these results requires a degree of caution because computer-generated female faces were used to manipulate head motions in our experiments. Further study involving male figures, real faces, and observers from different cultural backgrounds, is needed to apply these findings to real-world situations."