THE SCIENCE BEHIND WHY WE SMILE
You stop by a magazine rack, and they’re all over the place. Walk around your neighborhood, and you will probably see a few. As children play in parks or couples take their afternoon stroll, you will see them passing by. You might even wear one right now.
Most people smile every day, and they can communicate different messages as they do so. Smiles can show politeness, happiness, sarcasm, even frustration-the list goes on and on. You see smiles so often that you likely take them for granted, but why do people smile? Read on to learn more about the science behind this common phenomenon.
When you think about communication, you might think that your words play the biggest and most important role. Yes, your words can communicate many things. When you email, text, or write documents, you must understand how your wording will influence your meaning.
However, face-to-face contact takes on a slew of other factors. The most significant is non-verbal messages. Non-verbal communication includes things like gestures, eye contact, posture, facial expressions, or even your dress and appearance.
For example, when you speak and someone holds their index finger up and looks at their phone, you know he or she wants you to stop talking and wait while they answer a call. Smiles can perform similar roles. When you walk up to someone and they smile at you, you know that they want to hear what you have to say. But smiles are different because they come to you naturally.
In 2003, BBC News reported on Dr. Stuart Campbell’ s groundbreaking 4D scanner. People were fascinated by the images it produced because they revolutionized traditional ultrasounds. One of the most interesting discoveries the scanner brought light? Babies can smile in the womb.
Before this discovery, most scientists believed that babies learned to smile from their parents, just as they would learn that holding up an index finger means to be quiet. Experts have posed other explanations for the so-called smile, including that it was merely a reflex. Regardless of the explanation, however, the photographs intrigued viewers about the science behind smiling.
The Muscles Behind Your Smile
When you smile, it seems reflexive. It doesn’t make your heart pump harder or sweat pour from your brow, even if you hold that smile for minutes at a time. You couldn’t do that without some muscle power.
You have 43 muscles in your face, but only a few create your smile. The two most important are the zygomaticus major and the orb icularis occuli. The zygomaticus major controls the corners of your mouth. Place your hand on you cheek while you smile, and you can feel it working. The orbicularis occuli circles around your eye socket. You can squint to isolate this muscle.
Spot the Fake
While a genuine smile will use both of these muscles, a polite or “faked” smile will only use the zygomaticus major. Smile like you did before, but place your fingertips near your eye. You likely won’t feel any movement there. This difference occurs because only natural smiles include the orbicularis occuli.
Since you see smiles all the time, you can unconsciously determine when one is genuine or not. If you aren’t sure, though, look toward the eye. When you n otice crinkles in the corner, the smile is likely natural.
The smile is nearly universal to all cultures, but the frequency with which we show off those pearly-whites varies. The United States, f or instance, is famous—or infamous to some—for its oft-smiling population. For most Americans, it’s a sign of politeness to smile at strangers, but this can put off people unaccustomed to it.
In fact, during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, people were confused on both sides of the smiling debate: Americans didn’t understand why others wouldn’t smile back at them while their hosts weren’t sure their frequent smiles were sincere.
Smiling Creates Happiness
Whether you smile for all to see or you save your smile for friends and family, smiling can do more than make others feel good. Smiling can makeyou feel good.
Charles Darwin is one of the first scientists to posit that facial expressions can induce feelings instead of merely expressing them. Psy chologist Robert Zazjonc’s 1989 study provides insight in to this same idea: facial expressions can change your mood.
In this study, Zazjonc asked his subjects to repeat vowel sounds that changed their mouth positions. Long “E” sounds mimicked a smile while long “U” sounds forced a frown. Most subjects in the “E” group reported feeling positive emotions while the “U” group stated the opposite.
The science of smiles is still up for debate. What is clear, however, is they are important. Take care of your smile. Brush, floss, and make regular appointments with your dentist so you can show off your best grin.