You can do so much with your smile. You can use it to show your emotions, cheer up a friend, or even hide how you’re feeling. And there’s a science to how it all works.
Do you want to learn how your smile works in connectivity with your brain? Continue reading to discover four surprising facts about the psychology of the human smile.
Social Situations Can Dictate When You Smile—Even When You’re “Faking It”
If you think you only smile when you deliberately intend to, think again. As the author of the book Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex and Politics and psychology professor Marianne LaFrance points out, humans are “socialised to smile.”
While these social smiles may be “fake,” she claims that they’re genuine in a social sense, such as when we greet others or offer a friendly smile to reduce social tension. What’s more, she says that we’re programmed for social smiling. She also reports that children who don’t smile as often under social conditions have a more difficult time forming relationships later in life.
Your Gender Could Impact How Much You Smile
No one is quite sure why, but research shows that women smile more—and to a greater extent—than men. Marianne LaFrance says that part of this could be because women are more in tune to relationships than men are.
But then again, she mentions that perhaps women are under more pressure to smile more often. In a review of 186 reports, LaFrance and colleagues noticed that women smiled more, and men smiled less, when they knew they were being observed. When thinking they weren’t being observed, the results showed a closer average of smiling instances between the genders.
Still, however, the team found that teens show a large gender difference when it comes to smiling, so the idea is likely still a credible one, but people aren’t entirely sure why it happens.
Your Smile Really Does Affect What People Think of You
When looking at chimpanzees, Dr. Paula Niedenthal noticed that chimps smile for a variety of reasons. Sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for social bonding, and sometimes to show their dominance. The “power grin” is a type of smile that works with a raised chin to look down on others. Therefore, the type of smile you portray, whether it’s intended or not, determines how people will judge your attitude.
But there’s more to it than that. Dr. Niedenthal also says that there’s a science to the way people react to your smile. She outlines three ways people subconsciously gauge a smile:
- Analysing the geometry of the smile compared to the average.
- Considering the context of the situation.
- Mimicking the smile.
The way people then interpret your smile can change what they think of you.
You Can Identify Moods and Change Your Mood By Mimicking Smiles
As Dr. Niedenthal points out, you might gauge a person’s emotions by mimicking their smile. When you do so, you will also feel those emotions. For instance, if you mimic a friendly smile, you’ll stimulate your orbitofrontal cortex, giving your brain a reward and making you feel happy.
However, this subconscious action can also make you feel other emotions. When you mimic a false smile, you won’t activate orbitofrontal activity. You then interpret that something is wrong, therefore identifying the false smile.
Dr. Niedenthal tested this. She and her colleagues showed photos to test subjects, some displaying genuine smiles and others displaying false smiles. When the subjects were free to mimic the smile, they scored well, but when they had a pencil in their mouth, restricting their ability to mimic the smile, people had a poor time distinguishing the genuine from the fake smiles.
These ideas are interesting, but do they apply to everyone? Next time you’re in a social situation, put these points to the test and pay attention to your smile. You might surprise yourself at what happens.
For ideas on how you can improve your smile with the help of a dentist, check out yesterday’s overview of cosmetic dentistry. For related topics, including why some believe that those with better teeth have more sex, have a look around the site.