The science of smiling, Can you spot the fake from the real thing?

Dr Hanne Christensen, a Normanhurst smile scientist

It’s the International Day of Friendship on July 30, so take a moment to make friends with someone new by starting with a smile. But just why is this simple act of stretching your facial muscles so good for you?

The shortest way between two people is a smile – it transcends languages, ethnicity and age barriers. It’s a universal sign of happiness. A smile can have an incredible positive effect on your whole life. It can change how you feel and how others perceive and interact with you. But can you tell a fake one from a genuine one?

When my grandson gave me his first smile I was lucky to be able to take a photo the moment his eyes changed to a genuine smile, a “Duchenne smile” – named after the French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne. He pioneered the study of the muscle that surrounds the entire eye. Do you have a Duchenne smile? It’s a facial expression formed by flexing the muscles at the sides of the mouth and contracting the muscles at the corner of the eyes, known infamously as laughter lines.

Are you suspicious of people who don’t use their eyes when smiling? Duchenne had the same feeling, when he watched a man who did not look happy when he smiled. What he saw was a fake smile as the muscles around the eyes weren’t used. Duchenne told a joke to the same man and photographed his reaction. This smile included the muscle that circles around the eye. It was a true smile.

What happens when we smile
We feel relaxed when we smile, and it helps our ability to focus. Smiling reduces the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline and simultaneously increases endorphins which can lower heart rate and blood pressure.

It improves health and our immune system through the release of neuropeptides that help to fight off stress, the tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate, facilitating message to the whole body when we’re happy, sad, depressed or any emotion in between. And the serotonin created when you smile serves as an antidepressant.

American scientists Paul Ekman and Silvan Tomkins were working on expressions of anger and distress when they noticed they both felt terrible after making faces to express these feelings. They discovered that a change in facial expression is sufficient to create changes in the autonomic nervous system.

So science has shown that smiling on purpose can help people feel better as it actually alters brain chemistry. Just the simple act of putting a smile on your face can lead you to feel actual happiness, joy, or amusement.

People who smile are perceived as being sociable, attractive and confident. These qualities are invaluable for job interviews. We’re more likely to trust and forgive people who are smiling.

Next time you accidentally stand on someone’s foot, apologise, produce a genuine smile and you’ll be forgiven.

Smiley facts

Angel use a smiley face emoticon (or similar) here for the bullets please

*Frequency: studies show 46% of adults smile between five and 20 times a day when at home, while at work only 30% of us smiled that much

*Faking it: to force a smile you can hold a pen clenched between your teeth

*Winning grin: waitresses who smile at customers get bigger tips than those who don’t, according to smile studies

* Cheer up: a sad face uses four times more muscles than a happy face

* Real vs unreal: researchers at the University of California have identified 19 different smile types falling into the “polite” social smile which only uses mouth muscles, and genuine, happy “felt” smiles which activate muscles on both sides of the mouth and around the eyes. The second smile type lights up the left frontal cortex of the brain where pleasure is registered.

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Dr Hanne Christensen is a Normanhurst based practitioner in NLP, as well as an author. She works to alleviate dyslexia in children and adults, and runs courses on study skills, NLP, hypnosis, the science of smiling and memory improvement. Email Dr Christensen: hanne@mindcraft.com.au

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