Weddings, college reunions, and big family dinners can be fun— at least until the cameras come out. Might be best to maintain that genuine smile, though. Recent research suggests a sincere smile can convey trustworthiness and kindness, and might even improve the smiler’s mood The value of genuine and polite smiles. Shore, D.M., Heerey, E.A. School of Psychology, Bangor University, Gwynedd, United Kingdom. Emotion 2011 Feb; 11(1): 169-74. Effects of laughing, smiling, and howling on mood. Neuhoff, C.C., Schaefer, C. Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hackensack, NJ. Psychological Reports 2002 Dec; 91(3 Pt 2): 1079-80..

Say Cheese — The Takeaway

Smile Illustration

So what’s the harm in faking it ‘til we make it? Research indicates people have a knack for spotting the real deal smiles from the fakes. While a forced smile tends to involve only the mouth, it turns out authentic smiles also tend to involve the eyes Judgment of authenticity of smiles and detection of facial indexes. Chartrand, J., Gosselin, P. Universit√© de Ottawa, Ontario. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology 2005 Sep; 59(3): 179-89.. Also known as the “Duchenne” smile, this usually genuine flash of pearly whites sends the muscles around the mouth and the eyes into activation mode. How’s that for a mini muscle workout?

What’s more, research suggests that a bona fide grin might be more effective in social situations. In one study, researchers created a computerized game to test people’s responses to two types of smiles: genuine and polite (because we really appreciate those holiday sweaters, Grandma) The value of genuine and polite smiles. Shore, D.M., Heerey, E.A. School of Psychology, Bangor University, Gwynedd, United Kingdom. Emotion 2011 Feb; 11(1): 169-74.. The results: even when subjects received a greater cash payoff from choosing the phonies, participants preferred playing against those with genuine smiles The value of genuine and polite smiles. Shore, D.M., Heerey, E.A. School of Psychology, Bangor University, Gwynedd, United Kingdom. Emotion 2011 Feb; 11(1): 169-74.. Trustworthiness might trump cold, hard cash after all.

Of course, just because the Duchenne smile involves more than the mouth doesn't mean it can't be faked Can Duchenne smiles be feigned? New evidence on felt and false smiles. Krumhuber, E.G., Manstead, A.S. Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland. Emotion 2009 Dec; 9(6): 807-20.. For maximum accuracy in spotting the real deal, it’s not just the eyes and mouth that have to be taken into account, but the entire face Can Duchenne smiles be feigned? New evidence on felt and false smiles. Krumhuber, E.G., Manstead, A.S. Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland. Emotion 2009 Dec; 9(6): 807-20.. And while some research suggests any kind of smile (fake or genuine) might have a positive effect on mood, in some instances, forcing it might actually make us feel worse Effects of laughing, smiling, and howling on mood. Neuhoff, C.C., Schaefer, C. Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hackensack, NJ. Psychological Reports 2002 Dec; 91(3 Pt 2): 1079-80.. At the end of the day, if the feeling's right, it can't hurt to put on a happy face.

The Tip

Smile like you mean it to gain trust and feel good, too.

Illustration by Elaine Liu

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