For other uses, see Smile (disambiguation).
File:Nepali Woman Smiles.jpg
A Nepali Newar woman smiling

A smile is a facial expression formed primarily by flexing the muscles at the sides of the mouth.[1] Some smiles include a contraction of the muscles at the corner of the eyes, an action known as a "Duchenne smile". Smiles performed without the eye contraction can be perceived as "fake".

Among humans, smiling is an expression denoting pleasure, sociability, happiness, or amusement. It is distinct from a similar but usually involuntary expression of anxiety known as a grimace. Although cross-cultural studies have shown that smiling is a means of communication throughout the world,[2] there are large differences between different cultures, with some using smiles to convey confusion or embarrassment.

Historical background

Primatologist Signe Preuschoft traces the smile back over 30 million years of evolution to a "fear grin" stemming from monkeys and apes who often used barely clenched teeth to portray to predators that they were harmless. The smile may have evolved differently among species and especially among humans.[citation needed] A possible reason for smiling is that it promotes fertility. Apart from Biology as an academic discipline that interprets the smile, those who study kinesics and psychology such as Freitas-Magalhaes view the smile as an affect display that can communicate feelings such as love, happiness, pride, contempt, and embarrassment.

Social effects

File:A smiling baby.jpg
Social smiling normally develops between 6 and 8 weeks of age.

A smile seems to have a favorable influence upon others and makes one likable and more approachable.[3] In the social context, smiling and laughter have different functions in the order of sequence in social situations:

  • Smiling is not a pre-laughing device and is a common pattern for paving the way to laughter;
  • Smiling can be used as a response to laughter in the previous turn.[4]

Smiling is a signaling system that evolved from a need to communicate information of many different forms. One of these is advertisement of sexual interest. Female smiles are appealing to heterosexual males, increasing physical attractiveness and enhancing sex appeal. However, recent research indicates a man's smile may or may not be most effective in attracting heterosexual women, and that facial expressions such as pride or even shame might be more effective. The researchers ignored the role of smiles in other sexual preferences.[5]

Cultural differences

File:A Smiling boy from Bangladesh.jpg
A Smiling boy from Bangladesh.

While smiling is perceived as a positive emotion most of the time, there are many cultures that perceive smiling as a negative expression and consider it unwelcoming. Too much smiling can be viewed as a sign of shallowness or dishonesty.[6] Japanese people may smile when they are confused or angry. In other parts of Asia, people may smile when they are embarrassed. Some people may smile at others to indicate a friendly greeting. A smile may be reserved for close friends and family members. Many people in the former Soviet Union area consider smiling at strangers in public to be unusual and even suspicious behavior. Whereas smiling freely is far more prevalent in Europe, some see upon it as disagreement. In Southeast Asian cultures, a smile is frequently used to cover emotional pain or embarrassment.[7]


A Caucasian man smiling, with dimples

Cheek dimples are visible indentations of the epidermis, caused by underlying flesh, which form on some people's cheeks, especially when they smile. Dimples are genetically inherited and are a dominant trait. A rarer form is the single dimple, which occurs on one side of the face only. Anatomically, dimples may be caused by variations in the structure of the facial muscle known as zygomaticus major. Specifically, the presence of a double or bifid zygomaticus major muscle may explain the formation of cheek dimples.[8] This bifid variation of the muscle originates as a single structure from the zygomatic bone. As it travels anteriorly, it then divides with a superior bundle that inserts in the typical position above the corner of the mouth. An inferior bundle inserts below the corner of the mouth.

Duchenne smile

File:Smiling girl.jpg
A Duchenne smile engages the muscles around the mouth and eyes.

While conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid-19th century, French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles. A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow's feet around the eyes).[9] A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle.[10] “Research with adults initially indicated that joy was indexed by generic smiling, any smiling involving the raising of the lip corners by the zygomatic major…. More recent research suggests that smiling in which the muscle around the eye contracts, raising the cheeks high (Duchenne smiling), is uniquely associated with positive emotion.”[11]

The Pan Am smile, also known as the "Botox smile", is the name given to a fake smile, in which only the zygomatic major muscle is voluntarily contracted to show politeness. It is named after the now-defunct airline Pan American World Airways, whose flight attendants would always flash every jet-setter the same perfunctory smile.[12] Botox was introduced for cosmetic use on 2002.[13] Chronic use of Botox injections to deal with eye wrinkle can result in the paralysis of the small muscles around the eyes, preventing the appearance of a Duchenne smile.

In animals

In animals, the exposure of teeth, which may bear a resemblance to a smile and imply happiness, often conveys other signals. The baring of teeth is often used as a threat or warning display—known as a snarl—or a sign of submission. For chimpanzees, it can also be a sign of fear. However, not all animal displays of teeth convey negative acts or emotions. For example, Barbary macaques demonstrate an open mouth display as a sign of playfulness which likely has similar roots and purposes as the human smile.[14]

See also

File:Happy face ball.jpg
A ball with a smiley face design, a common abstract representation of a smiling face


  1. ^ Freitas-Magalhães, A.; Castro, E. (2009). "The Neuropsychophysogical Construction of the Human Smile". In Freitas-Magalhães, A. Emotional Expression: The Brain and The Face. Porto: University Fernando Pessoa Press. pp. 1–18. ISBN 978-989-643-034-4. 
  2. ^ Izard, Carroll E. (1971). The Face of Emotion. New York: Appleton-Century-Croft. ISBN 0-390-47831-8. 
  3. ^ Gladstone, G. (2002). "When you’re smiling, does the whole world smile for you?". Australasian Psychiatry 10: 144–146. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1665.2002.00423.x. 
  4. ^ Haakana, M. (2010). "Laughter and smiling: Notes on co-occurrences". Journal of Pragmatics 42 (6): 1499–1512. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2010.01.010. 
  5. ^ Tracy, Jessica L.; Beall, Alec T. (2011). "Happy Guys Finish Last: The Impact of Emotion Expressions on Sexual Attraction" (PDF). Emotion 11 (6): 1379–1387. doi:10.1037/a0022902. 
  6. ^ Charles Tidwell. "Non Verbal Communication". Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  7. ^ "Nonverbal Communication". Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  8. ^ Pessa, Joel E. et al. (1998). "Double or bifid zygomaticus major muscle: Anatomy, incidence, and clinical correlation". Clinical Anatomy 11 (5): 310–313. PMID 9725574. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-2353(1998)11:5<310::AID-CA3>3.0.CO;2-T. 
  9. ^ Drewnicky, Alex. "Body Language - Common Myths and How to use it effectively" (PDF). Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  10. ^ Duchenne, Guillaume (1990). The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. New York: Cambridge University Press. Translated by R. Andrew Cuthbertson. Originally published as Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine in 1862.
  11. ^ Messinger, D. S.; Fogel, A.; Dickson, K. (2001). "All smiles are positive, but some smiles are more positive than others". Developmental Psychology 37 (5): 642–653. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.37.5.642. 
  12. ^ Harlow, John (February 20, 2005). "The smile that says where you’re from". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 18 January 2011. 
  13. ^ Fischer, Andrea (11 September 2013). "FDA approves Botox Cosmetic to improve the appearance of crow’s feet lines". Retrieved 3 November 2013. 
  14. ^ Preuschoft, Signe. "Laughter" and "Smile" in Barbary Macaques (Macaca Sylvanus)." Ethology 91.3 (1992): 220-36. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1992.tb00864.x

Further reading

  • Conniff, R. (2007). "What's behind a smile?". Smithsonian Magazine 38: 46–53. 
  • Miller, Professor George A., et al.. Overview for "smile." Retrieved 12 December 2003 from this page.
  • Ottenheimer, H.J. (2006). The anthropology of language: An introduction to linguistic anthropology. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworh.

Duchenne smile

  • Freitas-Magalhães, A. (2006). The Psychology of human smile. Oporto: University Fernando Pessoa Press.
  • Ekman, P.; Davidson, R.J.; Friesen, W.V. (1990). "The Duchenne smile: Emotional expression and brain psysiology II.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58: 342–353. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.58.2.342.  Cited in: Russell and Fernandez-Dols, eds. (1997).
  • Russell and Fernandez-Dols, eds. (1997). The Psychology of Facial Expression. Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-58796-4.

External links