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Chapter 3


Smiley Face
What makes this one of the world's most irresistible icons?

Bob gazed across the room and locked eyes with an attractive brunette. She seemed to smile at him and, not being slow on the uptake, he swiftly crossed the room and began a conversation with her. She didn't seem to talk much but she was still smiling at him so he persisted. One of his female friends sauntered past and whispered, 'Forget it Bob... she thinks you're a jerk.' He was stunned. But she was still smiling at him! As with most men, Bob didn't understand the negative significance of the tight-lipped, no-teeth-visible female smile.

Children were often told by their grandmothers to 'put on a happy face', 'wear a big smile' and 'show your pearly 'whites' when meeting someone new because Grandma knew, on an intuitive level, it would produce a positive reaction in others.

The first recorded scientific studies into smiling were in the early part of the nineteenth century when French scientist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne used electrodiagnostics and electrical stimulation to distinguish between the smile of real enjoyment and other kinds of smiling. He analyzed the heads of people executed by guillotine to study how the face muscles worked. He pulled face muscles from many different angles to catalogue and record which muscles caused which smiles. He discovered that smiles are controlled by two sets of muscles: the zygomatic major muscles, which run down the side of the face and connect to the corners of the mouth and the orbicularis oculi, which pull the eyes back. The zygomatic majors pull the mouth back to expose the teeth and enlarge the cheeks, while the orbicularis oculi make the eyes narrow and cause 'crow's feet'. These muscles are important to understand because the zygomatic majors are consciously controlled - in other words, they are used to produce false smiles of fake enjoyment to try to appear friendly or subordinate. The orbicularis oculi at the eyes act independently and reveal the true feelings of a genuine smile. So the first place to check the sincerity of a smile is to look for wrinkle lines beside the eyes.

A natural smile produces characteristic wrinkles around the eyes - insincere people smile only with their mouth.

In the enjoyment smile, not only are the lip corners pulled up, but the muscles around the eyes are contracted, while non-enjoyment smiles involve just the smiling lips.

Kylie MinogueHilary Swank
Which smile is fake? False smiles pull back only the mouth, real smiles pull back both the mouth and eyes

Scientists can distinguish between genuine and fake smiles by using a coding system called the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), which was devised by Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California and Dr Wallace V Friesen of the University of Kentucky. Genuine smiles are generated by the unconscious brain, which means they are automatic. When you feel pleasure, signals pass through the part of your brain that processes emotion, making your mouth muscles move, your cheeks raise, your eyes crease up and your eyebrows dip slightly.

Photographers ask you to say 'Cheese' because this word puts back the zygomatic major muscles. But the result is a false smile and an insincere looking photograph.

Lines around the eyes can also appear in intense fake smiles and the cheeks may bunch up, making it look as if the eyes are contracting and that the smile is genuine. But there are signs that distinguish these smiles from genuine ones. When a smile is genuine, the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - the eye cover fold - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly.

Smiling Is a Submission Signal

Smiling and laughing are universally considered to be signals that show a person is happy. We cry at birth, begin smiling at five weeks and laughing starts between the fourth and fifth months. Babies quickly learn that crying gets our attention - and that smiling keeps us there. Recent research with our closest primate cousins, the chimpanzees, has shown that smiling serves an even deeper, more primitive purpose.

To show they're aggressive, apes bare their lower fangs, warning that they can bite. Humans do exactly the same thing when they become aggressive by dropping or thrusting forward the lower lip because its main function is as a sheath to conceal the lower teeth. Chimpanzees have two types of smiles: one is an appeasement face, where one chimp shows submission to a dominant other. In this chimp smile - known as a 'fear face' - the lower jaw opens to expose the teeth and the corners of the mouth are pulled back and down, and this resembles the human smile.

Primate Fear FacePrimate Play Face
A primate 'fear face' (left) and a primate 'play face'

The other is a 'play face' where the teeth are exposed, the corners of the mouth and the eyes are drawn upwards and vocal sounds are made, similar to that of human laughing. In both cases, these smiles are used as submission gestures. The first communicates 'I am not a threat because, as you can see, I'm fearful of you' and the other says 'I am not a threat because, as you can see, I'm just like a playful child'. This is the same face pulled by a chimpanzee that is anxious or fearful that it may be attacked or injured by others. The zygomatics pull the corners of the mouth back horizontally or downwards and the orbicularis eye muscles don't move. And it's the same nervous smile used by a person who steps onto a busy road and almost gets killed by a bus. Because it's a fear reaction, they smile and say, 'Gee...I almost got killed!'

In humans, smiling serves much the same purpose as with other primates. It tells another person you are non-threatening and asks them to accept you on a personal level. Lack of smiling explains why many dominant individuals, such as Vladimir Putin, James Cagney, Clint Eastwood, Margaret Thatcher and Charles Bronson, always seem to look grumpy or aggressive and are rarely seen smiling - they simply don't want to appear in any way submissive.

And research in courtrooms shows that an apology offered with a smile incurs a lesser penalty than an apology without one. So Grandma was right.

Happy, submissive or about to tear you limb from limb?

Why Smiling Is Contagious

The remarkable thing about a smile is that when you give it to someone, it causes them to reciprocate by returning the smile, even when you are both using fake smiles.

Professor Ulf Dimberg at Uppsala University, Sweden, conducted an experiment that revealed how your unconscious mind exerts direct control of your facial muscles. Using equipment that picks up electrical signals from muscle fibres, he measured the facial muscle activity on 120 volunteers while they were exposed to pictures of both happy and angry faces. They were told to make frowning, smiling or expressionless faces in response to what they saw. Sometimes the face they were told to attempt was the opposite of what they saw - meeting a smile with a frown, or a frown with a smile. The results showed that the volunteers did not have total control over their facial muscles. While it was easy to frown back at a picture of an angry man, it was much more difficult to pull a smile. Even though volunteers were trying consciously to control their natural reactions, the twitching in their facial muscles told a different story - they were mirroring the expressions they were seeing, even when they were trying not to.

Professor Ruth Campbell, from University College London, believes there is a 'mirror neuron' in the brain that triggers the part responsible for the recognition of faces and expressions and causes an instant mirroring reaction. In other words, whether we realize it or not, we automatically copy the facial expressions we see.

This is why regular smiling is important to have as a part of your body language repertoire, even when you don't feel like it, because smiling directly influences other people's attitudes and how they respond to you.

Science has proved that the more you smile, the more positive reactions others will give you.

Our observations of sales and negotiating processes make it readily apparent that smiling at the appropriate time, such as during the opening stages of a negotiating situation where people are sizing each other up, produces a positive response on both sides of the table that gives more successful outcomes and higher sales ratios.

How a Smile Tricks the Brain

The ability to decode smiles appears to be hardwired into the brain as an aid to survival. Because smiling is essentially a submission signal, ancestral men and women needed to be able to recognize whether an approaching stranger was friendly or aggressive, and those who failed to do this perished.

Hugh Grant
Do you recognize this actor?

When you look at the above photograph you'll probably identify actor Hugh Grant. When asked to describe his emotions in this shot, most people describe him as relaxed and happy because of his apparent smiling face. When the shot is turned the right way up, you get a completely different view of the emotional attitude conveyed.

Hugh Grant, Distorted With Grimace

Grant's eyes and smile were graphically edited to produce a face with a bizarre grimace but, as you can see, your brain can even identify a smile when a face is upside down. Not only can it do that, but the brain can separate the smile from every other part of the face. This illustrates the powerful effect a smile has on us.

Practicing the Fake Smile

Most people cannot consciously differentiate between a fake smile and a real one, and most of us are content if someone is simply smiling at us - regardless of whether it's real or false. Because smiling is such a disarming gesture, most people wrongly assume that it is a favorite of liars. Research by Paul Ekman showed that when people deliberately lie, most, especially men, smile less than they usually do. Ekman believes this is because liars realize that most people associate smiling with lying so they intentionally decrease their smiles. A liar's smile comes more quickly than a genuine smile and is held much longer, almost as if the liar is wearing a mask.

A false smile often appears stronger on one side of the face than the other, as both sides of the brain attempt to make it appear genuine. The half of the brain's cortex that specialises in facial expressions is in the right hemisphere and sends signals mainly to the left side of the body. As a result, false facial emotions are more pronounced on the left side of the face than the right. In a real smile, both brain hemispheres instruct each side of the face to act with symmetry.

Liars Smile
When liars lie, the left side of the smile is usually more pronounced than the right

Smugglers Smile Less

In the past it had been assumed by law enforcement officers that liars increased their frequency of smiling when they were lying or under pressure. Analysis of film of people who were intentionally told to lie showed the opposite - when the liars lied, they smiled less or not at all, regardless of culture. People who were innocent and telling the truth increased their smiling frequency when being honest. Because smiling is rooted in submission, the innocent people were attempting to appease their accusers while the professional liars were reducing their smiles and other body signals. It's the same as when a police car pulls up next to you at traffic lights - even though you haven't broken the law, the presence of the police is enough to make you feel guilty and start smiling. This highlights how fake smiling is controlled and should always be considered in the context of where it occurs.

Five Common Types of Smiles

What follows is a summary and an analysis of the common types of smiles that you're likely to see every day:

1. The Tight-Lipped Smile

The lips are stretched tight across the face to form a straight line and the teeth are concealed. It sends the message that the smiler has a secret or a withheld opinion or attitude that they will not be sharing with you. It's a favorite of women who don't want to reveal that they don't like someone and is usually clearly read by other women as a rejection signal. Most men are oblivious to it.

Obama Smiles
The Tight-Lipped Smile, maybe he has a secret he won't be sharing with you

For example, one woman might say of another woman, 'She's a very capable woman who knows what she wants', followed by a tight-lipped smile, rather than saying what she was really thinking: 'I think she's an aggressive, pushy bitch!' The Tight-Lipped Smile is also seen in magazine pictures of successful businessmen who are communicating 'I've got the secrets of success and you've got to try and guess what they are.' In these interviews, the men have a tendency to talk about principles of success but rarely do they reveal the exact details of how they succeeded. Conversely, Richard Branson is always seen sporting a wide toothy smile and is happy to explain the exact details of his success because he knows that most people won't do it anyway.

Jim Carrey
Would I lie to you?

2. The Sly Smile

This type of smile shows opposite emotions on each side of the face. The right brain raises the left side eyebrow, the left zygomatic muscles and left cheek to produce one type of smile on the left side of the face while the left brain pulls the same muscles downwards on the right side to produce an angry frown. Interestingly, the Sly Smile is primarily found in the Western world and typically is deliberate, evoking a sense of sarcasm.

Mike Sorrentino, The Jersey Shore
Do we sense contempt here?

Actor DB Sweeney
There are exceptions though. For actor DB Sweeney this is his near normal smile -- we will assume sarcasm is not his usual frame of mind.

3. The Drop-Jaw Smile

This is a practiced smile where the lower jaw is simply dropped down to give the impression that the person is laughing or playful. This is a favorite of people such as The Joker in Batman, Bill Clinton and Hugh Grant, all of whom use it to engender happy reactions in their audiences or to win more votes.

Guy With Fake Smile
Drop-Jaw smile with an attempt to fake smiling eyes
Drop Jaw Smile
A Drop-Jaw smile where only the jaw is lowered to feign enjoyment

4. Sideways-Looking-Up Smile

With the head turned down and away while looking up with a Tight-Lipped Smile, the smiler looks juvenile, playful and secretive. This coy smile has been shown to be men's favorite everywhere, because when a woman does it, it engenders parental male feelings, making men want to protect and care for females. This is one of the smiles Princess Diana used to captivate the hearts of people everywhere.

Princess Diana's SmilePrincess Diana'a Smile
Diana's Sideways-Looking-Up smile had a powerful effect on both men and women

This smile made men want to protect her, and made women want to be like her. Not surprisingly, this smile is a regular in women's courtship repertoire for attracting men as it's read by men as a seductive, and powerful, 'come-on' signal. Prince William adopted and judiciously used that particular smile at times which helped to win people's affection while also reminding them of Diana.

5. The George W Bush Grin

President George W Bush always has a permanent smirk on his face. Ray Birdwhistell found that smiling among middle-class people is most common in Atlanta, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville and most of Texas. Bush is a Texan and they smile more than most other Americans. As a result, in Texas, an unsmiling individual might be asked if he was 'angry about something', while in New York, the smiler might be asked, 'What's so funny?' President Jimmy Carter was also a Southerner who smiled all the time. This worried the Northerners who feared that he knew something they didn't.

Smile constantly. Everyone will wonder what you've been up to.

Why Laughter Is the Best Medicine

As with smiling, when laughter is incorporated as a permanent part of who you are, it attracts friends, improves health and extends life. When we laugh, every organ in the body is affected a positive way. Our breathing quickens, which exercises the diaphragm, neck, stomach, face and shoulders. Laughter increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, which not only helps healing and improves circulation, it also expands the blood vessels close to the skin's surface. This is why people go red in the face when they laugh. It can also lower the heart rate, dilate the arteries, stimulate the appetite and burn up calories.

Neurologist Henri Rubenstein found that one minute of solid laughter provides up to 45 minutes of subsequent relaxation. Professor William Fry at Stanford University reported that 100 laughs will give your body an aerobic workout equal to that of a ten-minute session on a rowing machine. Medically speaking, this is why a damn good laugh is damn good for you.

The older we become, the more serious we become about life. An adult laughs an average of 15 times a day; a preschooler laughs an average of 400 times.

Why You Should Take Laughter Seriously

Research shows that people who laugh or smile, even when they don't feel especially happy, make part of the 'happy zone' in the brain's left hemisphere surge with electrical activity. In one of his numerous studies on laughter, Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, hooked subjects up to EEG (electroencephalograph) machines, which measure brain wave activity, and showed them funny movies. Smiling made their happy zones click wildly. He proved that intentionally producing smiles and laughter moves brain activity towards spontaneous happiness.

Arnie Cann, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, discovered that humor has a positive impact in counteracting stress. Cann led an experiment with people who were showing early signs of depression. Two groups watched videos over a three-week period. The group that watched comedy videos showed more improvement in their symptoms than did a control group that watched non-humorous videos. He also found that people with ulcers frown more than people without ulcers. If you catch yourself frowning' practice putting your hand on your forehead when you talk, to train yourself out of it.

Why We Laugh and Talk, But Chimps Don't

Robert Provine, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, found that human laughter is different from that of our primate cousins. Chimpanzee laughter sounds like panting, with only one sound made per outward or inward breath. It's this one-to-one ratio between breath cycle and vocalization that makes it impossible for most primates to speak. When humans began walking upright, it freed the upper body from weight-bearing functions and allowed better breath control. As a result, humans can chop an exhalation and modulate it to produce language and laughter. Chimps can have linguistic concepts, but they can't physically make the sounds of language. Because we walk upright, humans have a huge range of freedom in the sounds we make, including speech and laughter.

How Humor Heals

Laughter stimulates the body's natural painkillers and 'feel good' enhancers, known as endorphins, helping relieve stress and heal the body. When Norman Cousins was diagnosed with the debilitating illness ankylospondylitis, the doctors told him they could no longer help him and that he would live in excruciating pain before he died. Cousins checked into a hotel room and hired every funny movie he could find: the Marx Brothers, Airplane and The Three Stooges, etc. He watched and re-watched them over and over, laughing as hard and loud as he could. After six months of this self-inflicted laughter therapy, the doctors were amazed to find that his illness had been completely cured - the disease was gone! This amazing outcome led to the publishing of Cousins' book, Anatomy of an Illness, and the start of massive research into the function of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals released from the brain when you laugh. They have a similar chemical composition to morphine and heroin and have a tranquillising effect on the body, while building the immune system. This explains why happy people rarely get sick and miserable but complaining people often seem to be ill.

Laughing Till You Cry

Laughter and crying are closely linked from a psychological and physiological standpoint. Think of the last time someone told you a joke that made you buckle up with laughter and you could hardly control yourself. How did you feel afterwards? You felt a tingling sensation all over, right? Your brain released endorphins into your system that gave you what was once described as a 'natural high' and is the same experience that drug addicts get when they take dope. People who have trouble with laughing at the tough things in life often turn to drugs and alcohol to achieve the same feeling that endorphin-induced laughter produces. Alcohol loosens inhibitions and lets people laugh more, which releases endorphins. This is why most well-adjusted people laugh more when they drink alcohol, while unhappy people become even more despondent or even violent.

People drink alcohol and take drugs to try to feel how happy people feel normally.

Dr. Paul Ekman found that one of the reasons we are attracted to smiling and laughing faces is because they can actually affect our autonomic nervous system. We smile when we see a smiling face and this releases endorphins into our system. If you are surrounded by miserable, unhappy people you are also likely to mirror their expressions and become morose or depressed.

Working in an unhappy environment is detrimental to your health.

How Jokes Work

The basis of most jokes is that, at the punch line, something disastrous or painful happens to someone. In effect, the unexpected ending 'frightens' our brain, and we laugh with sounds similar to a chimp warning others of imminent danger. Even though we consciously know that the joke is not a real event, our laugh releases endorphins for self-anaesthesis as if the joke was a real event. If it was a real event, we may go into crying mode and the body would also release its endorphins. Crying is often an extension of a laughing bout and is why, in a serious emotional crisis, such as hearing about a death, a person who cannot mentally accept the death may begin laughing. When the reality hits, the laughter turns to crying.

Primate Warning
The origin of human laughter is as a primate warning signal

The Laughter Room

In the 1980s, several American hospitals introduced the concept of the 'Laughter Room'. Based on Norman Cousins' experiences and other laughter research by Dr Patch Adams, they allocated a room and filled it with joke books, comedy films and humorous tapes, and had regular visits from cornedians and clowns. Patients were then exposed to 30- to 60-minute sessions each day. The result was impressive - a dramatic improvement in patient health and shorter average hospitalization time per patient. The Laughter Rooms also showed a decrease in the number of painkillers required by those in pain and patients became easier to deal with. So you could say that the medical profession now take their laughter seriously.

He who laughs, lasts.

Smiles and Laughter Are a Way of Bonding

Robert Provine found that laughing was more than 30 times as likely to occur in participants in a social situation than in a solitary setting. Laughter, he found, has less to do with jokes and funny stories and more to do with building relationships. He found that only 15% of our laughter has to do with jokes. In Provine's studies, participants were more likely to speak to themselves when alone than they were to laugh. Videos were taken of participants watching a humorous video clip in three different situations: alone, with a same-sex stranger and with a same-sex friend.

Only 15% of our laughter has to do with jokes. Laughter has more to do with bonding.

Even though no differences existed between how funny the participants felt the video clip was, those who watched the amusing video clips alone laughed significantly less than did those who watched the video clip with another person present, whether it was a friend or a stranger. The frequency and time spent laughing were significantly greater in both situations involving another person than when the participant was alone. Laughter occurred much more frequently during social interaction. These suits demonstrate that the more social a situation is, the more often people will laugh and the longer each laugh will last.

Humor Sells

Karen Machleit, professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati's College of Business Administration, found that adding humor to advertisements increases sales. She found that humor makes it more likely that consumers will accept an advertiser's claims and increases source credibility, so that a funny ad with a famous person becomes even more readily accepted.

The Permanent Down-Mouth

The opposite to pulling up the corners of the mouth to show happiness is pulling both corners downward to show the Down-Mouth expression. This is done by the person who feels unhappy, despondent, depressed, angry or tense. Unfortunately, if a person holds these negative emotions throughout their lifetime, the corners of the mouth will set into a permanent down position.

In later life, this can give a person an appearance similar to a bulldog. Studies show that we stand further away from people who have this expression, give them less eye contact and avoid them when they are walking towards us. If you disover that the Down-Mouth has crept into your repertoire, practice smiling regularly, which will not only help you avoid looking like an angry canine in later life, but will make you feel more positive. It will also help you avoid frightening little children and being thought of as a grumpy old cow.

Down Mouth womanEnglish Bulldog
The Down-Mouth expression can become a permanent facial feature. Our intuition tells us to stay away from those with a Down-Mouth expression.

Smiling Advice For Women

Research by Marvin Hecht and Marianne La France from Boston University has revealed how subordinate people smile more in the presence of dominant and superior people, in both friendly and unfriendly situations, whereas superior people will smile only around subordinate people in friendly situations.

This research shows that women smile far more than men in both social and business situations, which can make a woman appear to be subordinate or weak in an encounter with unsmiling men. Some people claim that women's extra smiling is the result of women historically being placed by men into subordinate roles, but other research shows that by the age of eight weeks, baby girls smile far more than baby boys, so it's probably inborn as opposed to learned. The likely explanation is that smiling fits neatly into women's evolutionary role as pacifiers and nurturers. It doesn't mean a woman can't be as authoritative as a man; but the extra smiling can make her look less authoritative.

Women's extra smiling is probably hardwired into the brain.

Social psychologist Dr Nancy Henley, at UCLA, described a woman's smile as 'her badge of appeasement' and it is often used to placate a more powerful male. Her research showed that, in social encounters, women smile 87% of the time versus 67% for men and that women are 26% more likely to return smiles from the opposite sex. An experiment using 15 photographs of women showing happy, sad and neutral faces were rated for attractiveness by 257 respondents. The women with the sad expressions were considered the least attractive. Pictures of unsmiling women were decoded as a sign of unhappiness while pictures of unsmiling men were seen as a sign of dominance. The lessons here are for women to smile less when dealing with dominant men in business or to mirror the amount of smiling that men do. And if men want to be more persuasive with women, they need to smile more in all contexts.

Laughter In Love

Robert Provine found that in courtship, it's also women who do most of the laughing and smiling, not men. Laughing in these contexts is used as a way of determining how successfully a couple is likely to bond in a relationship. Simply put, the more he can make her laugh, the more attractive she will find him. This is because the ability to make others laugh is perceived as a dominant trait and women prefer dominant males, while males prefer subordinate females. Provine also round that a subordinate person will laugh to appease a superior person and the superior person will make subordinates laugh - but without laughing himself - as a way of maintaining his superiority.

Studies show that women laugh at men they're attracted to, and men are attracted to women who laugh at them.

This explains why having a sense of humor is near the top of women's priority list of what they look for in a man. When a woman says 'He's such a funny guy - we spent the whole night laughing together' she usually means that she spent the night laughing and he spent the night making her laugh.

From a man's perspective, saying that a woman has a good sense of humor doesn't mean she tells jokes; it means she laughs at his jokes.

On a deeper level, men seem to understand the attraction value of being humorous and spend much of their time with other men competing to tell the best joke to enhance their own status. Many men also become annoyed when one man dominates the joke-telling, especially when women are present and are also laughing. Men are likely to think the joke-teller is not only a jerk but he isn't particularly funny either, come to think of it - despite the fact he has all the women in fits of laughter. The point for men to understand is that humorous men look more attractive to most women. Fortunately, you can learn to be humorous.


When you smile att another person they will almost always returnthe smile, which causes positive feelings in both you and them, because of cause and effect. Studies prove that most encounters will run more smoothly, last longer, have more positive outcomes and dramatically improve relationships when you make a point of regularly smiling and laughing to the point where it becomes a habit.

Evidence shows conclusively that smiles and laughter build the immune system, defend the body against illness and disease, medicate the body, sell ideas, teach better, attract more friends and extend life. Humor heals.

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Westside Toastmasters is located in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, California