International day of smiling

On October 4th we celebrate the International Day of Smiling. We used the special occasion and collected some facts about the characteristic facial expression of the smile.

Cultures of smiling

We all smile. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes more intense, sometimes more restrained. When and how we smile varies from culture to culture. While emotions are rarely shown in some countries, in other regions it is one of the unspoken rules to smile even to strangers. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin explain the phenomenon of social smiles with the different composition of a population: To be able to communicate in a very heterogeneous population that has been colorfully thrown together over many years, minimal facial expressions are not always sufficient. In countries with high linguistic and cultural differences, researchers defined a “culture of smiles” rather than in a homogenous population. Especially in Canada, New Zealand and the US, residents express their feelings and intentions with the help of facial expressions and gestures as unequivocally as possible. “When strangers meet for the first time, the presence of a smile reliably predicts familiarity and willingness to share resources,” said Paula Niedenthal, a member of the Wisconsin Research Team.1 A friendly countenance suggests strangers’ trustworthiness and acceptance, ties and strengthens bonds or is used as a reward. At a professional level too, a smile can – depending on when and how it is used – demonstrate or cancel hierarchies.

While emotions are rarely shown in some countries, in other regions it is one of the unspoken rules to smile even to strangers.

Innate happiness

The social smile is considered one of the most significant milestones in human evolution. With just a few months, babies seem to master the art of choosing the right time for a friendly smile almost perfectly. In contrast to a conscious use of the oral and eye ring muscles in adulthood, the characteristic facial expression of a smile begins to form from birth, regardless of the cultural anchorage. Although newborn babies often shape their face into a kind of “angelic smile” – as the first hint of a smile is popularly called – when they sleep, the human brain is only really mature in four to eight weeks to consciously smile at others. From a neurobiological point of view, the phenomenon can be explained by the fact that the nerve cells, which connect the deep basal ganglia of the brain, are covered with a myelin sheath. Only through the sheath are the structures below the cerebral cortex responsible for controlling any voluntary movement fully functional.

At four to eight weeks, babies start smiling at others on purpose.

Real or put on smile?

Loved by many, consciously combated by others through targeted interventions: we are talking about the little laugh lines around our eyes. Since the French physiologist Guillaume Benjamin Duchenne described the muscle group around the eye in the 19th century as the “muscle of pleasure,” wrinkles around the eyes are often seen as a sign of a serious, “real” smile. That’s been refuted long ago. Because whether the eye muscles are involved or not, although allows conclusions about the intensity of the smile, but gives no information about the “authenticity”. If we look closer, we can still see if a person is actually happy – or if the smile is on. A spontaneous, so real smile usually builds up slowly and sounds more gentle again. 

By the way: Not only laughter, but also an authentic and honest smile can be contagious. One more reason to give your counterpart – whether stranger or not – a small but purposeful smile.. ❝

By the way: Not only laughter, but also an authentic and honest smile can be contagious. One more reason to give your counterpart – whether stranger or not – a small but purposeful smile.
1 https://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/psychologie-das-echte-und-das-aufgesetzte-laecheln/12432058-2.html

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