Stop Telling Me to Smile

June 6, 2017


Stop Telling Me to Smile

We do a lot of communicating with our mouth, & and we’re not just talking about the words that come out of it.

Smiling is an important tool that we use to demonstrate when we feel good about who or what we’re looking at or experening; we also utilize the smile as a tool to encourage other people to like us. When we look at the use of the smile in our relatives the chimpanzees, it is used as a way to express submission. A smile looks quite different than a snarl or a growl and it makes certain that a chimps “resting bitch face”(if you will) isn’t misread as an act of aggression. Many researchers believe we are very smilier when it comes to facial expressions.  Both humans and chimps have a fear-specific smile that’s rectangular in shape and used when we are scared or anxious but trying to get out of harm’s way. There is also an emoji that has this rectangular, toothy smile which is employed frequently along with “whoops” or “awkward” type texts.

If you’re one of those people who has a hard time stifling a laugh when something goes wrong, know that you’re not alone. You probably don’t actually think it’s funny when someone falls, but you body responds in that way because it’s trying to release endorphins to cut down on the pain you’re perceiving. Sensitive people are even more likely to respond in that way so they don’t feel too bad about witnessing someone else getting hurt.

It’s pretty easy to see how smiling can be helpful when you’re trying to be charming, but smiling being a submission signal could be why women tend to get so irritated when demanded to smile (apart from the fact that it’s just beyond annoying). When there’s no natural inclination to smile it can be pretty insulting to be asked to do it for a stranger, especially since those conversations are often in flirty settings (men are actually more likely to read a smile as flirtation than women are).

smile - psychnsex


Besides the fact that it’s weird to demand that people smile for no reason, it won’t always give the expected result that the person is looking for.

There are tons of muscles in the face that play a part in that sort of communication and most people are pretty good at spotting fake smiles. Fake smiles use slightly different facial muscles than real smiles do, and frequently those differences are noticeable around the eyes. For one thing, the obicularis occuli contracts around the eyes when we have a genuine smile, and it’s harder to fake that than moving other muscles at our will. Fake smiles also tend to pop on and off the face faster than genuine smiles do, which are more likely to linger when the actual emotion of happiness is being felt.

This is exactly why some people’s smiles turn you off or make you distrustful of their motives in a conversation. Why are you really talking to me if you feel the need to fake a smile? Why are you seeking my approval in a manner that can be seen as manipulative or disingenuous? It can be a little jarring, especially if you’re especially perceptive. A forced smile is often just simply suspicious, and it can be just as visible in photos as it is in person. When people never quit with the inauthentic smile it can actually make you think that they’re close to snapping. They might be.

Real Vs Fake

Authentic smiles, on the other hand, are pretty efficient at both making the smiling person seem more attractive and also making the recipient feel better for having the smile directed at them. When we view a smile that’s pointed in our direction it activates the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain and actually makes us feel rewarded. That’s exactly why we tend to be attracted to be people who are friendly and direct with their attention, whether or not their intention is actually to flirt or not.

Simply put, authentic smiles are powerful connecting tools whether they’re inspired by love or downright terror. But fake smiles of any kind can actually project the opposite of what they intend to.

smile - psychnsex



Hart, Joshua, and Rhea M. Howard. “I Want Her to Want Me: Sexual Misperception as a Function of Heterosexual Men’s Romantic Attachment Style.” Personality and Individual Differences 92 (2016): 97-103. Web.

Wang, Ze, Huifang Mao, Yexin Jessica Li, and Fan Liu. “Smile Big or Not? Effects of Smile Intensity on Perceptions of Warmth and Competence.” Journal of Consumer Research. Oxford University Press, 29 Oct. 2016. Web. 18 May 2017.

Ambadar, Zara, Jeffrey F. Cohn, and Lawrence Ian Reed. “All Smiles Are Not Created Equal: Morphology and Timing of Smiles Perceived as Amused, Polite, and Embarrassed/Nervous.” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 01 Mar. 2009. Web. 18 May 2017.

Primitive emotional contagion. Hatfield, Elaine; Cacioppo, John T.; Rapson, Richard L. Clark, Margaret S. (Ed), (1992). Emotion and social behavior. Review of personality and social psychology, Vol. 14., (pp. 151-177). Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc, xi, 311 pp.


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