What Is A Duchenne Smile? The Difference Between A Real Smile And A Fake One

Updated July 12, 2022 by ReGain Editorial Team

You smile when you flex the muscles on the side of your mouth. This is called a Duchenne Smile when the smile extends to your eyes and includes a contraction at the corner of your eyes.

The History Of The Duchenne Smile

Your Smile Can Be Real Again - Talk About It With A Therapist

Interestingly, humans have evolved to consider a smile a symbol of joy, considering that baring teeth are usually a warning, a display of aggression, or sometimes even a sign of submission for many animals. However, scientists recently discovered that Barbary macaques open their mouths and smile as a sign of playfulness. This playful smile probably has similar roots as the human smile.

The Duchenne smile is named for the French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne, who pointed out in the mid-1800s that there are two very different kinds of smiles.

Duchenne smiles flex the muscles at the side of your mouth, namely the zygomatic major muscle and the muscle that lifts the cheeks and creates wrinkles around the eyes, controlled by the orbicularis oculi muscle. These two kinds of smiles engage different muscles. This is a fact Duchenne noted and which since took his name.

Duchenne theorized that a smile that engages the eyes is associated with genuine positive emotions. In modern terms, a Duchenne smile has also been called "smiling with the eyes" or "smizing."

However, some modern scientists have questioned Guillaume Duchenne's methods and findings. If his name sounds familiar, it's not just because he's famous for theorizing about our grins. He was also the father of electrotherapy. As he studied smiles, he attached electrodes to his patients' faces and shocked their muscles into contracting.

As you might guess, this system was very painful, so at first, Duchenne was only able to test his methods on the heads of decapitated French revolutionaries. Eventually, however, he met a man at a Paris hospital with severe facial insensitivity. Almost all of Duchenne's experiments were conducted on this man, using electricity to freeze his face into smiles.

Modern science has discovered that a smile can mean many things, and not all are pleasant.

There Are 19 Different Types Of Smiles

More recent studies have expanded on Duchenne's idea of just two smiles and have identified almost twenty different kinds of smiles.

For example, one type of smile is called the "fear smile." In chimpanzees, this smile is used when nervous or interacting with another chimp of a higher status. Studies have shown that human men also smile more when around someone they perceive to be of higher status. When babies smile, it might mean that they are happy or under stress.

Another type of smile is paradoxically called the "miserable smile." This is a smile that is used to mask deep pain. These smiles are common among depressed people and people in disappointing situations that they need to endure, especially in the public sphere.

Something called a "qualifier smile" is used when delivering bad news. It's a kind of apology, a sweet, sad smile that says, "I'm sorry I have to tell you this." It's especially common in customer service or among people who don't know each other very well.

Another ubiquitous smile is the "flirtatious smile." The famous Mona Lisa painting is the most famous for its subtle, flirtatious smile.

What Does A Duchenne Smile Mean?

It is commonly believed that a Duchenne smile is a "genuine" smile. A non-Duchenne smile that doesn't employ the eyes, on the contrary, may very well be disingenuous.

There are many different types of smiles, and people can also fake smiles. A generic smile that involves merely moving the corners of the mouth could mean many things. For example, polite smiles are used to be friendly. A smile could be used to communicate how you are feeling or even be "put on" for a photo. Generally, human smiles express joy or acceptance, but some cultures use smiles to show embarrassment or confusion. However, a genuine Duchenne smile is typically a smile of pure enjoyment.

Someone using this type of smile shows that they are having fun. Smiles are a form of social communication as they are a natural expression of emotion.

However, an exaggerated Duchenne-type smile may also indicate that a person is lying. This discovery happened when artificial intelligence software began to notice differences between liars' facial expressions and people telling the truth.

A study on smiling published by researchers at the University of Rochester, New York, showed the difference between a fake Duchenne-type smile and a real one. The researchers developed a program that used artificial intelligence to analyze millions of frames from interview tapes at airports with immigration services.

The program discovered that laypeople often used a big, fake smile. Honest people often contract the muscles around the eyes and smile with their eyes without using their mouths.

The Duchenne-type smile may also be produced in situations of schadenfreude. While doing something malicious, this big grin is familiar among villains in horror movies. It appears when someone is thrilled by the misfortune of others. They are more common when people do not know they are being observed.

Scientists still wonder how much facial expressions are innate and how much they are learned from our culture and society. But in 2009, a team of scientists from San Francisco State University discovered in 4,800 photos that people produced the same or similar facial expressions, even if they have been blind since birth.

The Difference Between Real Smiles And Fake Smiles

The primary difference between Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles is in the eyes. A genuine Duchenne smile involves a crinkling of the corners at the edge of the eyes. A non-Duchenne smile is focused predominantly on the muscles around the mouth.

Non-Duchenne smiles are also sometimes referred to as "Pan Am smiles." This type of smile might over-engage the mouth muscles while failing to include the eyes.

"Pan Am smile" comes from Pan American World Airways, whose flight attendants were famous for their big, white happy smiles. Pan Am flight attendants were encouraged to produce the Duchenne smile, but it is difficult to fake a smile of pure happiness. People smiling for customer service typically don't create a smile of enjoyment and instead only smile with their mouths.

Can you fake a Duchenne smile? About 71% of people can voluntarily contract their eyes. So it is possible to let a smile reach your eyes intentionally. If you squint and smile with your mouth, it may appear as if you successfully produced a Duchenne smile.

There may be nothing intrinsically genuine about a Duchenne smile. But often, people can pick up on the subtle differences between genuine Duchenne smiles and false Duchenne smiles.

Whether conscious or not, people are very good at picking up on differences in smiling. A smile of enjoyment engages the eyes but subtly. A fake Duchenne smile is often over-zealous and contracts the eyes too much, indicating this is not a smile of enjoyment but rather a fake smile.

Cultural Differences With Smiling

In most cultures, smiling is seen as a demonstration of positive emotion. For example, in the United States, smiling is heavily encouraged in photos, customer service spheres, and even as a simple greeting. However, too much smiling might be equated with dishonesty or shallowness. If someone is constantly smiling, people may be reluctant to trust them in many cultures, as it comes across as disingenuous.

In some parts of Asia, a smile signifies embarrassment or emotional pain. A polite non-Duchenne smile can be similar to a wave or a friendly greeting in many cultures, while smiles are reserved for loved ones in other places.

Duchenne smiling is typically not used as a polite greeting or cultural norm. A Duchenne smile is a genuine expression of happiness, and it is difficult to fake. However, even the Duchenne smile is subject to these differences in interpretation from different people and different cultures.

Your Smile Can Be Real Again - Talk About It With A Therapist

Information about psychology, and tips for better understanding people, are available on online counseling sites such as Regain. If you are fascinated with people and psychology, try a free counseling session and ask for more information. Online counseling is perfect for the curious learner because it's significantly more affordable, and it's also available from the comfort of your own home.


There is no easy way to spot the difference between a fake smile and a real one. We use many different kinds of smiles in various situations, and culture also has a significant impact on how you perceive facial expressions.

The Duchenne smile refers to a smile that engages both the eyes and the mouth, and it's traditionally seen as a more genuine smile. Still, modern science reveals that the Duchenne smile can also be faked, or it could mean that someone is lying.

The best way to understand a smile is to pay attention to context and communicate your emotions vocally.

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