Real or Fake Smile?
Body Language of Smiles - Part 2

“You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.”

― Al Capone

Hi there and welcome to the second part where we discuss the issue of the real vs fake smiles, what does it mean, how it was discovered and how we can use our smiles to get along with others, even without the use of guns...

Something to think about before we start

Let's consider for a moment the term "fake smile" - what does it actually mean?

The most logical answer would be - it's a smile that doesn't sincerely display a positive emotions, right?

But after we discussed the meaning of smiles in the previous article, we understand that it's not always the case. Keep in mind that a fake smile doesn't necessarily send a devious or sarcastic message - the person who smiles a fake smile maybe isn't that happy to see you, but he's being polite enough to show that he tries..

Bottom line - Faking it isn't always bad, even a plastered smile can be sometimes better that nothing, think of it as a social convention and tool.

Now that we cleared that out, let's see what are the characteristics of a "real smile" and how it came to be:

Dazzling Smiles

A true, real happy smile is a very strong and uplifting display. We like to see such smiles and they're addicting to watch and mimic. "Fake" smiles however are much less efficient at such tasks, and at times they even leave a suspicious trace on them.

But how can we distinguish between them? It's not always an easy answer...

To make things clear once and for all, Guillaume Duchenne, a famous French physician from the 19th century decided to test it out, in a rather... extreme fashion. He was interested in the muscles that are involved in creating face expressions - which he believed were associated with specific emotions (today we know that it's true for some emotions).

To test his hypothesis he employed a rather unorthodox method - he attached electrodes to the skin near facial muscles to a run  current (a small one!) through them.


Extreme as it sounds it was quite effective - he discovered the muscles group involved in many face expression, one of them is the genuine smile, also known today as the "Duchenne" to his name.

And what's so special about the muscles in a smile? Well, in any smile we use a muscle called:

"Orbicularis Oris" - which is the muscle that pulls away the lips and create the familiar stretch on the face. But, in a genuine smile we have a second muscle working in conjunction:

The "Zygomatic Major" - this muscle creates the small cringes around our eyes and nose when we smile, aka "crow's feet" , this muscle also squint our eyes and make them in crescent shape.

Orbicularis Oris

Zygomatic Major

So the main difference is this - when you look at a smiling face, look at their eyes - see if the eyes "smile" as well. If you don't see any change, it's a strong sign that they're faking it.

You can try it out in this test - spot the fake smile

But wait, there is more..

Now I know that it sounds like we found the perfect formula to identify imposters, things are not always that easy. Because while most of us will have a hard time faking the cringing around the eyes, it's an ability we can learn to control if we practice enough, in a similar way that we learn to wink.

Fortunately we have some other good indicators to help spot the phony:

Something is 'off' about this smile..

Image Source

*How fast the smile appears - genuine smiles are late-coming, they don't appear instantly on demand.

* How often  and long it stays - real smiles appear in succession and last somewhat longer. They don't stay a frozen mug on the face, think about slow bursts of delight.

* How big and symmetrical they are - it might sound counter intuitive but real smiles aren't that big and they don't always symmetrical.
Why? Because when we do fake a smile we want to really show it, so we often "overstretch" it - because real smiles are big and symmetrical, right? Wrong..

Tips to Smiling

Now that we know the difference between a fake and a real smile, I want to share some tips and insights on how to improve, or rather use more appropriately, your smiling.

First of all, I want to emphasize that I'm not here to teach you how to smile, after all, how can I? when it's an innate ability that I'm sure you're familiar with. My aim is rather to point you at things you might have overlooked, nothing more.

I don't want to overcomplicate things so a few practical tips:

* Know when and where to smile - of course there's a range here (it's not five smiles per day or anything like that), but learn from the feedback you get from the people around you. If people think you're a happy, lightweight guy\girl, that's cool, but maybe you're perceived as too naive or simple or even worse - a phony, In such case maybe you should regulate some of your smiles. On the other hand, Being forever grim definitely isn't any better - again, look how others treat you.

* Practice at the mirror - it's that simple, want your smile to appear more genuine or want to have a better mug in photos - try it out in front of the mirror. You'll find that the best smiles are often "don't feel" very tense in the muscles - they don't need to be big.

Don't be afraid to try it out in the mirror

Image Source

* Smiling to feel good or smiling when it's good? The simple answer is both - smile to feel better but at the same time try to get to a more positive mindset as well - you want to get to a positive self-empowering cycle.

*Use your smile to connect with others - making eye contact and smiling is the best, most direct and positive approach you have to get along with others, especially new people. You don't need an elaborate opening line if you know how to make that simple connection.

Moving On

Got the positive attitude already? Awesome. Now let's continue to the final part in the series - types of smiles. I mention already that we have several types with various meanings, so let's look at some of them and see how easy it is when you know the signs - Part 3

Body language of smiles - Part 1

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