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What's In A Smile?

Aug 10, 2008
Do you know the difference between a real smile and a fake smile? Most people can tell, even if they don't know how to define just what the difference is. In fact, many people can tell that a fake smile is fake or vice versa just by listening to the person talk.

Every culture on the planet recognizes that a smile is an expression of happiness. It can reflect contentment, joy, inner satisfaction, and so on. Almost everyone is born with the ability to smile. Even babies can smile before they actually have the visual capability to see one on someone else's face. Studies have also shown that babies prefer smiling faces to ones that aren't.

Women smile more than men do. Younger people smile more than older people do. Those who smile least are men with high testosterone levels.

Of all the facial expressions, though, a smile is used most frequently. You need to use at least 10, or five pairs of, facial muscles to smile, and sometimes as many as 53. Even so, it should be noted that it takes more muscles to smile than it does to frown.

When you're happy, endorphins are released in your brain; oftentimes, this produces a smile. By contrast, even forcing yourself to smile can lead to the release of endorphins in the brain and make you feel happier.

There are many different kinds of smiles, but the most interesting ones are the fake smile (or the "Pan American" smile), and the open smile, sometimes called the Duchenne smile. The forced or fake smile is often used by people in the service industry towards customers, such as pilots or flight attendants as they greet passengers. This smile is courteous and polite instead of an expression of true happiness or joy.

The Duchenne smile, by contrast, is genuine and is named after Guillaume Duchenne. Duchenne was a French neurologist who mapped more than 100 facial muscles in 1862. He found that if a smile is genuine, only two sets of muscles are involved, those around the mouth and the eyes.

With a Duchenne smile, the zygomatic muscles of the cheek and eye contract, which causes the skin at the corners of the eyes to wrinkle into so-called "crow's feet." Simultaneously, muscles around the mouth cause the mouth's corners to curl upward. This occurs naturally as a result of happiness. It is spontaneous and isn't thought about. Duchenne called it a facial reaction to "the sweet emotions of the soul."

The next time you see someone smile, take a look at the corners of their eyes and mouth. Can you tell whether the smile is real or fake?
About the Author
Kevin Sinclair is the publisher and editor of My-Personal-Growth.com, a site that provides information and articles for self improvement and personal growth and development.
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