Facial expressions have been studied for a very long time and surprisingly, the research is still on the go. How come something so common and familiar become a research material for so long? Well, it might be common but don’t be deceived- we still know very little of what happens on our own face.

Do you think you can spot a fake smile? Most people believe that they can. But the studies on the issue seem to differ. According to most of the research publications, we are very poor at detecting fake smiles and can only spot it up to 50% on average. If you didn’t know- a smile is the most universal facial expression. If you see a person smile in Kongo and if you approach someone smiling in Los Angeles, it would be more or less the same. It might not be the exact replica. But, a smile can be identified, perceived, and reproduced in the same manner by anyone, no matter which culture you are from. But nobody seems to be experts in identifying a fake smile, or in other words-everyone are experts at faking it.

Let us see what it actually means to smile. People on average have 43 facial muscles. There might be slight variations from person to person. It takes about 10 muscles to create a smile and it takes about 6 to frown. I know, tiring, right? Now you know why your face feels tired after a good laugh. But how to tell if someone is faking it? Here is the catch- a genuine smile can be identified with the involvement of one particular muscle.

Duchenne was a French scientist fascinated by our facial expressions. Duchenne conducted an experiment in which he analyzed the smile of people by either electrically stimulating the facial muscles or by telling them a joke. Duchenne found out that in a real smile (later came to be known as a Duchenne smile), the muscles around the eyes were involved. This is the ‘Orbicularis Occuli’. So here is the trick to catch a fake smile, or a non-Duchenne smile- pay attention to their eyes and not just their lips. You will see that when people really smile, their eyes are a bit more wrinkled. It might not be easy to spot a fake smile even with this detail. It could be easy to spot one in a person and difficult in another. You needn't necessarily be able to master the art. You just know why.

Don’t get me wrong, a non-Duchenne smile doesn’t mean that the person is secretly in love with your wife or is a terrorist in disguise. It just means that he is not exactly smiling. Most of us use non-Duchenne smiles in our daily life to cope up with social situations. And in most cases, it helps us get by. You might have heard that when we smile, endorphins are released which provides us with a pleasant feeling. This doesn’t happen with a fake smile as it is totally under the control of our motor cortex. However, some studies on facial feedback hypothesis suggest that we can even trick our brain into thinking that our smile is genuine. Our brain controls our smile like every other facial expression and for this, the 7th cranial nerve is used. But it is not a one-way road. Our smiles also affect our brains. So, if you smile long enough you can fool your brain into being happy.

A physician from Maryland once tried injecting Botox (which paralyzes facial muscles) to specifically target the muscles that make us frown. And the subjects found that it became more and more difficult for them to express negative emotions. This inability, in turn, affected the working of their brain and they all reported to have been less prone to depression and severe aggression as compared to the general population. Injecting botox is a bit too much. But always wearing a smile on your face; it’s worth the effort of all 10 muscles.



Psy-enthusiast, Content creator, Cinephile

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