Seeing Through Smiles - Transparency Week

By Meredith Schneider

Photo courtesy of ThatsABigIf

When you were young, your parents might have told you little white lies to keep you in line. A lot of parents go around spouting the line that if you frown too much, your face will wrinkle at a faster rate.

However, true as that statement may be—a lot of it depends on genetic factors, after all—it is also true that genuinely smiling also creates lines. Such lines include “laugh lines” in the mouth area and “crow’s feet” around the outer edges of the eyes. Facial expressions in general can be blamed for wrinkles, however there is no scientific information to account for percentages of wrinkles caused by smiling versus frowning, or other factors such as gender, exposure to the sun, or age. They are all factors that vary by person. (Remember to adequately moisturize to avoid premature wrinkling of the skin.)

What might hold more clout is the argument that you are not genuinely smiling if there are no wrinkles around your eyes at the time of the smile. Note the smile that plays across a person’s face and eyes while they are laughing, and you may realize that the skin around their eyes becomes wrinkled when they are genuinely in a good mood. In that way, it is easier to spot when someone is faking a smile because most people forget to engage their entire face.

It is with this in mind that supermodel Tyra Banks coined the term “smizing,” which refers to smiling with your eyes. In 2011, NBC reported that eye wrinkles are the most noticeable factor in identifying a real smile from a fake smile.

“The key feature differentiating these types of smiles is the presence of so-called ‘laugh lines,’ the tiny wrinkles that appear at the corners of the eye during smiling,” admitted Erin Heerey, lead author in the 2011 Bangor University study on smiling that NBC outlined.

Another interesting study that has been performed on smiling occurred at the University of Stirling in Liverpool. The study was regarding Smiling and Social Judgments, and results were gathered based on many attributes by both men and women. Researchers concluded that “smiling faces were perceived as being more attractive, more generous, healthier, more agreeable, more extroverted, and more competitive than their natural counterparts.”

What seems hard to grasp is that smiles and their effects aren’t black and white observations.

“Smiling is one of the most used indicators of relational interaction,” explains Jonathan Bowman, PhD, associate professor of Communication Studies at University of San Diego. His studies presently concentrate on communication processes linked to relationships, and his nonverbal communications class is a hit among the undergraduate population at USD.

“People smile to let each other know they are paying attention, or they are understanding, or to indicate interest and inclusion,” Bowman tells BTR. “However, the ‘baring’ of one’s teeth that happens in the smile is a strong indicator of either affection or threat. That’s why it’s so difficult to interpret, because in different cultures smiles may mean different things. While people may try to come up with a list of things that you can use to interpret the authenticity of the smile, the best thing for an individual to do is look at that smile and context.”

Who are we to judge if the smile is authentic or not? Base everything on your interaction, and give your co-conspirator the benefit of the doubt. Smiles are good for the soul and can boost your mood almost immediately. Try it, chances are, you’ll like it!