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Posted by on Mar 20, 2017 in Tell Me Why |

Why Do We Smile?

Why Do We Smile?

We smile to show our pleasure or amusement in something or with someone. In fact, smiling seems to be an expression with which we are born, for most babies smile during the first weeks of life. Charles Darwin (1809—1882), the great English naturalist who established the theory of organic evolution in his work, Origin of Species, also published, in 1872, a book, Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, in which he studied the facial expressions of men and animals.

Most of the experiments connected with facial expression have been based on this book. It has been suggested that a baby begins to realize within its first year of life that a smile is a “good” expression because it is greeted with pleasure by mother or nurse. The smile develops, sometime after the twentieth week of life, into laughter but there are great differences between the frequency of laughter and smiles in individuals.

As the child grows up, the action of smiling becomes bound up with a growing awareness of what is socially acceptable in certain situations. In an adult it is often difficult to be certain whether the response is truly emotional or not. Recently different kinds of smiles have been more closely observed. It is notable that the pattern of the smile alters, according to the situation, from a wide spontaneous grin akin to laughter to a tight, nervous grimace which is nearer to a reaction of fear.

A smile is a facial expression formed primarily by flexing the muscles at the sides of the mouth. Some smiles include a contraction of the muscles at the corner of the eyes, an action known as a “Duchenne smile”. Smiles performed without the eye contraction can be perceived as “fake”.

Among humans, smiling is an expression denoting pleasure, sociability, happiness, joy or amusement. It is distinct from a similar but usually involuntary expression of anxiety known as a grimace. Although cross-cultural studies have shown that smiling is a means of communication throughout the world, there are large differences between different cultures, with some using smiles to convey confusion or embarrassment.

Primatologist Signe Preuschoft traces the smile back over 30 million years of evolution to a “fear grin” stemming from monkeys and apes who often used barely clenched teeth to portray to predators that they were harmless, or to signal submission to more dominant group members. The smile may have evolved differently among species and especially among humans.

Apart from Biology as an academic discipline that interprets the smile, those who study kinesics and psychology such as Freitas-Magalhaes view the smile as an affect display that can communicate feelings such as love, happiness, glee, pride, contempt, and embarrassment.

A smile seems to have a favorable influence upon others and makes one likable and more approachable. In the social context, smiling and laughter have different functions in the order of sequence in social situations:

  • Smiling is not a pre-laughing device and is a common pattern for paving the way to laughter;
  • Smiling can be used as a response to laughter in the previous turn.

Smiling is a signaling system that evolved from a need to communicate information of many different forms. One of these is advertisement of sexual interest. Female smiles are appealing to heterosexual males, increasing physical attractiveness and enhancing sex appeal. However, recent research indicates a man’s smile may or may not be most effective in attracting heterosexual women, and that facial expressions such as pride or even shame might be more effective. The researchers ignored the role of smiles in other sexual preferences.

Content for this question contributed by Karrie Murphy, resident of Wilbraham, Hampden County, Massachusetts, USA