The Internet at the Speed of Thought

The Evolution of the Yearbook Photo

at11:00 am | By

Smile and Say “Cheese!”

Ever look at old photos around your house or in history books and wonder why people never seemed to smile?

It’s a little spooky, but there has to be a reason for it, right? A team of researchers led by PhD student Shiry Ginosar at UC Berkeley set out to study the “average” smile from high school yearbooks over the past 100 years.

After the study, some experts have suggested their own theories on why people smile more or less over time. Think you might know why?

Then read on to learn what makes us smile, and if we’re better off looking happy or serious in pictures.

yearbook smiles intro

Source: Today/ Shiry Ginosar/ UC Berkeley

Start the slideshow below to see why people smile more or less in pictures, then SHARE the smiles with a friend!

Let’s Hear It for the Boys

yearbook smiles men

Source: Today/ Shiry Ginosar/ UC Berkeley

For the study, PhD students analyzed nearly 38,000 frontal-facing photos from 949 American yearbooks ranging from 1905 to 2013.

Then, they made a composite image of all the men and women from a given decade and analyzed the curvature of their smiles.

The Women

yearbook smiles women

Source: Today/ Shiry Ginosar/ UC Berkeley

As you can see, in both the male and female composites, smiling has become more popular over time. But why?

As the study and other experts have suggested, this may have to do with shifting cultural norms across the 20th century, as well as the development of photography.

The most obvious change in smiling versus posing with a serious face comes after World War II, which could go to show a connection with American cheerfulness. Across the world, Americans are known for their brazen smiles and happiness, which some more serious cultures interpret as being fake. In fact, in many other nations throughout Europe and South America, openly smiling for photographs is still not the norm, and even young subjects pose with a more serious, closed mouth.