Body Language: Smiles

Different Types of Smiles

Spotting a Genuine Smile

Genuine SmileThe history of research in the smiles field isn't as laughable as the subject would suggest.  The French scientist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne used electrodiagnotics and electronic stimulation to distinguish the smile of real enjoyment compared with other kinds of smiling, by experimenting with the heads of people who were executed in the guillotine.  This was to test how human facial muscles reacted.  In his creepy experiments, Boulogne discovered that there are two sets of muscles that control the way we genuinely smile: the zygomatic major muscles which run down the side of the face and connect to the corners of the mouth, and the orbicularis oculi muscles that pull back the eyes.  The zygomatic majors pull the mouth back exposing the teeth and enlarging the cheeks, the orbicularis oculis however make the eyes narrower and cause wrinkles in the corners.

Real Smile Vs Fake SmileKeep in mind however, that the zygomatic major muscles (that pull back the mouth) can be consciously controlled allowing people to show insincere friendliness or subordination through fake smiles.  The orbicularis oculis on the other hand can't be controlled, and act independently when feeling pleasure and reveal our true feelings.  So if you want to know how to distinguish genuine smiles from fake smiles, observe the wrinkles in the corner beside the persons eyes (in the left hand side photo try to spot which is real and fake, I made it harder as the model has glasses :P).  Also be aware that the eyebrows will slightly dip down as well.  Have you ever wondered why photographers ask you to say "Cheese" when taking a photo?  Well, pronouncing this word pulls back your zygomatic muscles resulting in 'crinkly eyes'...but they forget about the orbicularis oculis muscles that end up resulting in a fake smile.

Common Types of Smiles

Apart from the above mentioned zygomatic majors and orbicularis oculis sincere smile (known simply as 'Duchenne'), and the fake smile, there are around 50 different types of smiles that have been found.  The following are the most commonly used smiles:

  • Tight Lipped SmileTight Lipped: In this one, the lips are tightly stretched across the face forming a straight line and concealing the teeth, this smile is not so much used by liars as by people who have secrets or are withholding their true opinion or attitude towards something.  You can observe this smile amongst women who say something like: "That dress is really gorgeous and looks beautiful on you honey!"  followed by a tight lipped smile instead of revealing their entire thoughts that would end something like: " fat cow!"  The tight lipped smile is also used as a polite smile by someone who doesn't like another persons company and doesn't know how to get rid of them.
  • Smerked SmileSmirk: This is a funny one.  Smirking is when someone displays two different emotions on their face.  The zygomatic muscles on the right side of the face for example, will pull the right side cheek and lip upwards.  However, because the right side of the brain controls the left side of the face, it will have an opposite effect of pulling downwards on the zygomatic muscles on the left side of the face, giving a smile/frown contradiction effect.  Try looking at the example picture on the side, if you put a piece of paper right through the middle covering the right or left side, you'll see two different types of emotions on the same face that are expressed.  This type of smile can also display sarcasm.
  • Shy SmileShy Smile: This one works marvels on men from what I've seen.  With the head turned slightly downwards and facing away while looking upwards and holding a Tight Lipped smile, this will make the smiler look more innocent, juvenile, playful and secretive.  The shy smile is thought as being men's favorite smile as its endearing affects induce paternal feelings, attracting the urge to protect and care for the female who is unleashing one of these smiles on them.  This smile was popularly used by Princess Diana.  More about this can be read in the Eyes article.
  • Compulsive SmilerCompulsive Smiler: There's some people who just smile a lot and it doesn't matter for what reason.  With big permanent grins on their face all the time displaying most of their teeth, compulsive smilers are thought as being suspiciously happy, because they either know something you don't or they are being fake with everyone to gain something.  This type of smile can be easily noticed by the lack of wrinkles around the eyes.  The negative implications are not true all the time however - there are people who are constantly genuinely happy and even when they aren't happy, they will still smile :).
  • Teeth Display SmileTeeth Display: Some people will open their mouths widely and simply display their upper teeth in the hopes of appearing as though they are laughing and are playful all the time.  This smile usually works as it makes the smiler appear happier, friendlier and therefore more likable and easier to approach.

This article is part of the Beginners Guide To Body Language series, you can read the rest of the articles by clicking here.

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