The Smile

what happens when you smile

The act of smilig
The act of smiling

Smile is a facial expression that is formed by flexing the muscles near both ends of the mouth. The smile can also be seen around the eyes. Traditionally, the smile is an expression that signals pleasure, happiness, or amusement, but can also be an involuntary expression of anxiety, in which case it is known as a grimace.

Cross-cultural studies show that smiling is a means of communicating emotions throughout the world. But there are large differences between different cultures. A smile can be spontaneous or artificial (when people feel obliged to smile). Happiness is most often the motivating cause of a smile.

The smile is the most universally recognized nonverbal signal. It has enormous power to diffuse tense situations, smoothen customer service, raise the level of teamwork, and communicate friendliness.

A genuine smile can communicate pleasant emotions such as happiness, acceptance, and appreciation. The yellow ‘smiley face’ that we see so often in publications is the universal symbol of happiness. ‘Its color is associated with the brightness of the sun’ (Givens, 1999).

What Smiling Implies

When you are smiling it indicates pleasure, either that you are generally happy and are enjoying the other person’s company or that you are amused by something in particular, such as a joke.

A full smile engages the whole face, particularly including the eyes, which crease and ‘twinkle’. A genuine smile is often asymmetric and usually larger on the right side of the face. A false smile may be more symmetrical or larger on the left side of the face.

Smiling without opening the mouth, and particularly with lips firmly pressed together, may indicate embarrassment about unsightly teeth. It may also be a suppression of words, which one does, for instance, when one does not understand a joke but refrains from commenting.

A half-smile, on one side of the face, may indicate cynicism, sarcasm, or uncertainty when one is in disagreement. Smiling is also a sign of submission as the person effectively pleads acceptance.

Smile and laughter are not always expression of pleasant emotions. Psychiatrists say that fear, apology, confusion, covering up, despair, disgust, feeling foolish, irony, stupidity, and so on, can also manifest in smiles and laughter.

1.  Forms of Smile

1.1   The Genuine Smile

Genuine smiles are generated by the unconscious brain, thus, they are automatic. When people feel pleasure, signals pass through the part of the brain that processes emotion. As well as making the mouth muscles move, the muscles that raise the cheeks—the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis—also contract, making the eyes crease up, and the eyebrows dip slightly.

In a genuine smile, several facial muscles come into play, not just the mouth, and the whole face is involved, including the tightening around the eyes. This action around the eyes is extremely difficult to fake and is the main signal for authentic smiling, revealing real feelings.

Genuine smiles appear on both sides of the face. A genuine smile indicates honesty and openness to communication.

Givens (1999) describes the ‘zygomatic smile’ as the ‘heartfelt smile’ which ‘is hard to produce on demand’, for it is a smile of genuine happiness or joy. This smile is formed by the corners of the mouth curving inward and the outer corners of the eyes crinkling into crows feet. This is a spontaneous smile, dictated by emotion, and therefore an accurate reflection of the mood of the person.

1.2   The Fake Smile

Scientists distinguish between Genuine and Fake smiles by using a coding system called the FACS, which was devised by Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California and Dr Wallace V. Friesen of the University of Kentucky (BBC).

While the physical variations of some smiles are apparent, there are smiles that are physically similar but mean different things. A smile can be faked, artificial, or the stamp of habit.

Fake smiles can be performed at will, because the brain signals that create them come from the conscious part of the brain and prompt the zygomaticus major muscles in the cheeks to contract. These are the muscles that pull the corners of the mouth outwards. A counterfeit smile sometimes appears more strongly on one side of the face (usually the right side).

Smiling with lips only is often falsehood, where the smiler wants to convey pleasure or approval but is actually feeling something else. This false smile is known as the Duchenne smile, after the scientists who first described it in 1862.

False smiles also tend to last for longer. Lowering the jaw to show a D-shaped mouth can be a false smile as it is easy to do. It may also be a deliberate signal of amusement and an invitation to laugh. Many people will intuitively notice a faked smile.

People who put on a smile, usually used out of politeness, restrict their smile to the muscles around the mouth. The upper half of their face remains virtually unchanged. Their smile is also less likely to be showing their teeth. This smile could indicate that the person is not telling the whole truth. Or, as often happens, a person feels embarrassed to show his teeth.

2.  Categories of Smiles

A full smile is known to engage the whole face, including the eyes, which creased and ‘twinkle’. Nierenberg and Calero (1975) describe three very common smiles: the simple, the upper, and the broad.

2.1   Simple Smile

Simple smile is when the teeth are not exposed. We generally wear the simple smile when we are watching something interesting or pleasant but are not physically involved in the action. We smile to ourselves.

2.2   Upper Smile

Upper smile exposes the upper set of teeth. It is a friendly smile, usually worn when we greet someone. It is accompanied by eye contact.

2.3   Broad Smile

Broad smile exposes both sets of teeth and is usually accompanied by laughter, often without eye contact.

In addition to these, Dr. Ewan Grant presents a list of five smile types:

  1. Oblong smile, where the lips are drawn fully back from both the upper and lower teeth, this way, the oblong is formed with the lips. Somehow there is no depth to this smile. ‘This is the smile or grimace when one is pretending to enjoy a joke or off-the-cuff remark’, or for politeness’ sake.
  2. How-do-you-do smile, where only the upper teeth are uncovered, and the mouth is generally only slightly open.
  3. Typically nonsense smile, where the lips curve back and up but remain together, so there is no dental display. It occurs when one is by oneself and happy.
  4. Broad smile, where the mouth is open, the lips curled right back, and both upper and lower teeth are visible. It occurs in situations of pleasurable excitement.
  5. Lip-in smile is much the same as the upper smile except that the lower lip is drawn in between the teeth. It is often seen on the faces of a coy girl. It implies that the person feels in some way subordinate to the person she is meeting.