What's in a smile?....and can you spot a fake one?

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George Clooney.jpg

Smiling is universally associated with expressions of pleasure, joy, happiness, and amusement. As Americans, we smile at friends, loved ones, at acquaintances, at the check-out lady at the grocery store, at cameras, at good tidings, and in new surroundings, to name a few. Much of the rest of the world thinks that we smile way too much and sometimes in an inappropriate context. Excessive smiling is viewed as a sign of dishonesty or shallowness in some cultures. In Asia, smiling is a more reserved action suited to express love as well as embarrassment, anger, or confusion. Try as we might, we could never get our grandparents (Indians) to smile for the camera although they would readily smile at us.

What makes us smile? In the anatomical sense, it is the contraction of the zygomatic muscles in the cheeks that pulls the corners of the mouth outwards and upwards. That is enough to pull off a conscious, fake smile but a genuine Duchenne smile (the pictures at the ends above) requires the co-ordination of these zygomatic muscles as well as the orbicularis oculi muscle. The result is the raising of the cheeks, the corners of the mouth pulled upwards and outward, crow's feet around the eyes, bagging under the eyes and a gleam in the eyes. It is very difficult to make a Duchenne smile voluntarily and for that reason, it is seen as reflection of genuine happiness.

Now that you have the tools to spot a genuine smile, look at the pictures below and test yourself.


There have been a number of studies in the area of smiles and the results are fascinating. Paul Ekman (of Facial Action Coding (FACS) fame) has conducted studies that show that ONLY Duchenne smiles cause increased activity of the front region of the left hemisphere, the area associated with positive emotions. This finding has been replicated by Harker and Keltner who conducted a longitudinal analysis of the relationship between positive emotional expression (how the students smiled in their yearbook) with outcomes in marriage and personal well-being. The Duchenne smilers were the winners!

To test yourself further, check out this link:



Expressions of Positive Emotion in Women's College Yearbook Pictures and Their Relationship to Personality and Life Outcomes Across Adulthood
LeeAnne Harker and Dacher Keltner University of California, Berkeley
Joumal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, Vol. 80, No. 1, 112-124

Ekman, P. (2003). Darwin, Deception, and Facial Expression. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1000: 205-221. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from http://www.evenhappier.com/darwin.pdf

Wikipedia Contributors. (2011, November 5). Smile. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Smile&oldid=258939145

BBC. (n.d.). Spot the Fake Smile. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles/index.shtml

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This page contains a single entry by rama0278 published on November 5, 2011 3:47 PM.

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