Today is World Smile Day so you can expect to encounter more cheesy grins than on any other day of the year, but do you know when someone’s faking it?
We all think we can tell the difference but are we as clever as we think.
There’s a quick quiz on the BBC Science pages: Spot the Fake Smile that tests your ability to differentiate a real smile from a fake one: it only takes a minute or two, go on give it whirl. We’re sure you’re very important but if the world can’t live without you for a minute or two then we’re in big trouble. This is valuable knowledge – proper science. You’ll thank us for the socially useful insight.
OK, so assuming you’ve taken the quiz. How did you score? We got 14, we thought of fattening up our score – as you’ve no way of actually knowing if we’re being truthful or not, and white lies, much like fake smiles, are tricky to spot – but then where would the point be in that? Still, we were disappointed.
A recent study by a team of neuroscientists at Cambridge University proved that sheep can spot and respond to smiling faces – human and sheep – but we don’t seem able to tell the difference between real and fake smiles. Even though fake smiles happen in a completely different way to a genuine cheeser.
In a fake smile a signal from a conscious part of the brain prompts the zygomaticus major muscles in the cheek to draw the lips into a smile, but a real smile only happens unconsciously stemming from a part of the brain that deals with emotion causing the cheeks to bunch up, the eyes to ‘smile’ and the eyebrows to dip. Can’t fake it. Yeah, you can work that fake smile until your eyes shrivel like prunes but it isn’t the real thing.
The odd thing is we knew this before taking the test and still our score wasn’t great. Paul Ekman, the man behind the test says this is because it’s easier to get along in life if we let the odd fake smile go. If we don’t really know how people are feeling. It seems our willingness to buy into the fakers is as hard wired as our ability to smile.
Just as well really. Imagine what Christmas Day would be like without the fake smile? Oh, an electric carving knife that plays Jingle Bells? No, really I have always wanted one of those. And cue fake smile that satisfies the deranged-novelty-appliance-buying-relative that we love our gift.
We all have fake smiles and we all need them. Job interviews. Wedding photos – and we’re not saying you weren’t happy on the day, but you know what we mean. The little clip above that we trawled up from the endless Friends archive gives us a taste of where we’d all be without the handy faker. Not a good place.
So get out there and consider this an important lesson learned. It matters not whether your smile is real – it matters that you’re smiling.
Smiling – real, or not – is infectious just like laughing. Check out this video for confirmation.
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