Say what you will about Barack Obama’s campaign strategies or proposed policies, the man has a great smile. A smile that his audiences often can’t help but mirror. And that may be one reason he is so persuasive, suggests University of Florida associate professor Amir Erez and his colleagues.

“It’s emotional contagion,” explains Erez. “Charismatic leaders are happier themselves, and they spread their happiness to others.” Because people like feeling happy, they tend to follow leaders who...

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