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

Updated June 24, 2021

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

The History Of The Duchenne Smile

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 most 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-1900s 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 noticed and decided to name.

Guillaume 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. He had a habit of electrocuting his patients. As he studied smiles, he attached electrodes to his patients’ faces and shocked their muscles into contracting.

But this system was very painful, so at first, Duchenne was only able to test his methods on the heads of decapitated French revolutionaries. Until finally, he met a man at a Paris hospital with severe facial insensitivity. Almost all of Duchenne’s experiments were conducted on this one man, using electricity to freeze his face into smiles.

Modern science has discovered that a smile can mean plenty of 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 20 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 they are around someone they perceive to be of higher status. When babies smile, it might mean that they are happy or that they are 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 if they are in a 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 could be fake.

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 just be for a photo. Generally, human smiles usually express joy or acceptance. But there are even some cultures that use smiles to show embarrassment or confusion. However, a genuine Duchenne smile is often a smile of pure enjoyment.

Someone can use this type of smile to show you that they are having fun. Smiles are a form of social communication as much 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 the facial expressions used by liars and by 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 people who were lying often used a big, fake smile. People who were being honest often contracted the muscles around the eyes and smiled with their eyes without using their mouth.

The Duchenne-type smile may also be produced in situations of schadenfreude. This big grin, while doing something malicious, 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

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The 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 referred to as “Pan Am smiles” or “Botox smiles.” This type of smile might over-engage the mouth muscles while failing to include the eyes.

The name “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 reasons typically don’t create a smile of enjoyment and instead only smile with their mouths.

The more modern name of the “Botox smile” comes from the Botox injectable drug available to the common public for cosmetic use in 2002. Botox is meant to decrease the number of wrinkles, but consistent Botox use can paralyze the muscles around the eyes. This limits a person from producing a Duchenne smile, and even their most genuine smiles appear fake.

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 also 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 artificial Duchenne smiles.

Whether it’s 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 over-zealous and contracts the eyes too much, indicating this is not a smile of enjoyment but rather the smile of someone trying to hide something.

Cultural Differences with Smiling

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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 in other places, smiles are reserved for loved ones.

In and around the former Soviet Union, smiling in public or smiling at strangers might be seen as suspicious behavior or a person who constantly smiles might be seen as stupid.

International studies have shown that people may perceive a smiling face as less intelligent. The same study also found that in countries with high levels of corruption, people are less trusting in general but especially suspicious of those who smile.

Due to these cultural differences, another common type of smile is called the dampened smile. For example, it is considered rude to smile in public in Japan, and it is instead encouraged to smile with your eyes and not your mouth. This creates a different type of smile when a person feels genuine joy but stifles the smile for societal reasons.

Duchenne smiling is typically not used as a polite greeting or as a 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.

Information about psychology, and tips for better understanding people, are available on online counseling sites like Regain.Us. If you have a fascination 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 available from the comfort of your own home.

Conclusion

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There is no one easy way to spot the difference between a fake smile and a real one. There are many different kinds of smiles that we use 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 is revearevealsDuchenne smile can also be faked, or it could mean that someone is lying or that thing schadenfreude.

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


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