By: Julia Thomas
Updated November 18, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Natalie Feinblatt
A smile is one of the most powerful forms of nonverbal communication, and a genuine smile is known as a Duchenne smile. A smile could start a relationship or disarm a hostile partner. A smile provides comfort and is often contagious. Grinning shares our joy and masks hidden agendas. Research has shown that a smile is actually much more complex.
On the surface, we associate Duchenne smiles or other grins with happiness. In addition to showing happiness, a smile can also convey embarrassment, self-doubt, deceit, arrogance, and even grief. By understanding the physiology behind smiling, we can understand when this gesture is genuine (a Duchenne smile) and when it is not.
What Is A Duchenne Smile?
- Zygomatic major muscle: This muscle resides around the cheeks and turns the corners of the lips up.
- Orbicularis oculi muscle: This muscle contracts around the eyes, resulting in the distinctive wrinkles often referred to as "crow's feet." It is also responsible for closing the eyelids.
A Duchenne smile requires both these muscles to work together. Other types of smiles only use the zygomatic major muscle. Duchenne argued only the "sweet emotions of the soul" force the orbicularis oculi to contract.
Research Behind the Duchenne Smile
A renewed interest in Duchenne's work and Duchenne smiles showed how positive emotions directly correlated to duchenne smiles. Some researchers believe the Duchenne smile is not just a brief spark of emotion, but a clear window into a person's core disposition.
The Duchenne Smile Vs Other Types of Smiles
The Duchenne smile is just one type of smile. Some researchers suggest there are up to 50 different types of smiles we use to communicate. Smiles convey a variety of messages, including fear, nervousness, deception, sarcasm, arrogance, concern, and more. Aside from the Duchenne smile, here are some other common types:
The tight-lipped smile is one of the most common forms of smiling. It happens when the lips are stretched across the face, but there is very little upward curl at the corners of the mouth. This smile is easily faked and used to be polite (unlike the Duchenne smile). The tight-lipped smile is common when meeting someone new or communicating with someone you don't particularly like.
Also similar to the smug smile, the smirk can be used when questioning authority or displaying sarcasm. I suggests some kind of sneering or amusement, unlike the Duchenne smile.
The Uneven Or Half Smile
Smiles can effectively show our affection or interest for someone else. Anyone receiving a seductive smile from a potential love interest may feel excitement or mutual interest. This is a slight smile often accompanied by other gestures like direct eye contact then quickly turning away. Because it can be used intentionally, it is not quite a Duchenne smile.
Tips For Spotting A Fake Smile
By understanding the muscles involved in Duchenne smiles, it is much easier to tell when a person's smile is fake or forced. Spotting a fake smile can make us more mindful of another person's nonverbal communications and their true intentions. Tight-lipped smiles, for example, could indicate the person is being polite, feigning interest, or unsure how they feel about you.
Here are three ways to spot a fake smile:
- The absence of eye movements: Duchenne smiles employ the orbicularis oculi muscle, which causes the eyes to close. If a person is faking a smile, their upper face will not move.
- The absence of crow's feet: The orbicularis oculi muscle is also responsible for “crow's feet,” or small wrinkles, at the corners of the eyes. “Crow’s feet” are a telltale sign of a Duchenne smile.
- Visible bottom teeth: During a Duchenne smile, the zygomatic major muscle moves upwards. When faking a smile, there is a tendency for this muscle to move outwards, sometimes exposing the bottom teeth.
Duchenne smiles are more than a sign of happiness. The benefits of smiling and the laughter that often follows can have a positive effect on your health and well-being. Here are a few of those benefits:
Spreads Joy And Uplifts People Around You
It's not often you hear that something “contagious” is also good, but smiling is both. When you see someone beam, the area of your brain controlling facial movements is activated, often leading to a reactive duchenne smile. Even in tense situations, a grin can be contagious and offer some relief.
Therapy Can Boost Your Smile
No matter what emotional or mental health issues might be taking up space in your life, pursuing therapy might be the key to unlocking a more frequent and powerful Duchenne smile on your own face. A recent study found that individuals treated for depression had more instances of Duchenne smiles following treatment than during their intake interviews. Furthermore, another study found that experiencing depression may inhibit one’s ability to recognize the Duchenne smile in others. Seeking support from a mental health professional, like the online therapists available through BetterHelp, can create positive change in your life through more genuine grins—on your own face and on those around you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why Is It Called A Duchenne Smile?
A Duchenne smile is a genuine form of grin where a person is experiencing joy, not just smiling because they feel like they need to. The Duchenne smile was named after Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne, a French neurologist who studied electrophysiology. He found in his research that two particular muscles are involved in a Duchenne smile: the zygomatic major muscle, which is in the cheeks and impacts the corners of the lips; and the orbicularis oculi muscle, which contracts near the eyes and creates wrinkles around the eyes. Duchenne was interested in studying people's facial expressions and body language.
What Is A Genuine Smile?
How Do You Know If A Smile Is Real?
Often, you can intuitively sense if a person's smile is real or not. They'll seem content with their body language and might be saying things to indicate that they're happy. Their eyes will light up, or they might laugh. It's hard to fake a Duchenne smile. With Duchenne smiles, your cheeks will rise, and your eyes will have natural crinkles that are often affiliated with genuine smiles.
Why Do Some People Smile Upside Down?
Why Is Smiling Good For You?
How Can I Make A Genuine Smile?
What Does A Smile Tell You About A Person?
A smile can tell you if a person is in touch with their feelings, and whether or not they're open or communicative. It can also tell you that someone is grounded and is comfortable experiencing joy outwardly. A Duchenne smile shows that someone is content, but a fake smile can show you that someone is showing their happiness.
Why Do People Smile?
People smile (whether Duchenne smile or otherwise) to show happiness and warmth. People also smile to show empathy or sociability, which is part of why people are often drawn to those who smile frequently.
What Does It Mean When Someone Smiles A Lot?
How Do I Get A Cute Smile?
A cute smile comes from being comfortable with your feelings. It's an expression that pops up when you are happy, and you don't need to make a purposeful effort to appear cute. The right person will recognize you as attractive. You just need to find happiness within yourself, and if you're smiling for real reasons, people will pick up on that.
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