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Friday, December 02, 2005

Smiles: real or fake?

Want to try a fun experiment on how well you read others? From the BBC's science page, can you spot the real vs. the fake smiles?

If you want to cut to the chase, I don't think it's cheating to give you their summary that appears after the quiz of how to tell the difference:
Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling.
Although fake smiles often look very similar to genuine smiles, they are actually slightly different, because they are brought about by different muscles, which are controlled by different parts of the brain.

Fake smiles can be performed at will, because the brain signals that create them come from the conscious part of the brain and prompt the zygomaticus major muscles in the cheeks to contract. These are the muscles that pull the corners of the mouth outwards.

Genuine smiles, on the other hand, are generated by the unconscious brain, so are automatic. When people feel pleasure, signals pass through the part of the brain that processes emotion. As well as making the mouth muscles move, the muscles that raise the cheeks – the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis – also contract, making the eyes crease up, and the eyebrows dip slightly.

Lines around the eyes do sometimes appear in intense fake smiles, and the cheeks may bunch up, making it look as if the eyes are contracting and the smile is genuine. But there are a few key signs that distinguish these smiles from real ones. For example, when a smile is genuine, the eye cover fold - the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly.
Is it really easier to get along if we don't know what others are really feeling? It makes me think about what other cues do we get in life, but perhaps don't always pay attention to, that help us figure out what's real, and what's fake?
Thanks to Carol Ross for the link (and check out her blog, Ordinary Life Extraordinary Living).

i got 17 out of 20 and am smiling about that. is it a real or fake smile, though? THAT is the question!
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