The secret of the smile: why do we smile when we feel bad and embarrassed?

What makes us smile?

Researchers from Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the United Kingdom sought to answer these questions.

Dr. Harry Witchel and his co-authors conducted a study to determine when participants tend to smile in an experimental context. They presented new results at the European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics, which took place in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

“According to some researchers, a real smile reflects an inner state of cheerfulness and cheerfulness,” says Dr. Witchell. “However, behavioral ecology theory suggests that smiles are tools used in social interactions; this theory states that being cheerful does not always make you smile.”

What is a smile and why is it needed?

The famous Hollywood smile and models on an advertising brochure, the mysterious smile of Mona Lisa and the Cheshire Cat, the creepy smile of the Joker and a carnival mask, the smile of a baby, a loved one, a boss, a stranger... Remember them? They are so different, but they have the same root.

This root, although deep, we can trace it even today - in the zoo, on the streets of Thailand or in the jungles of Africa - watching chimpanzees, macaques, orangutans, gorillas. Yes, they also know how to demonstrate “all 32” and spread a smile without showing their teeth. Moreover, a scientific group from the University of Portsmouth studying the evolution of laughter conducted a series of experiments with monkeys and found that they:

  • They react to tickling just like us;
  • Mimicically express their emotions. In particular, in situations that are funny for them, the same groups of facial muscles are used as we are;
  • They smile when they feel awkward: as if apologizing, or when they want to ask for something, or to calm down cubs and frightened individuals of lower rank;
  • They show a grin in a situation of an impending conflict or when, during a comic fight, someone goes too far and there is a risk that the game could escalate into a real battle. They also roll up their lips, showing their teeth, when an individual of a higher rank appears (they express submission);
  • They “laugh” loudly when they are trying to establish contact; this is their friendly invitation to communicate and play. True, so far scientists have observed laughter only in individuals of equal rank and only in primates closest to humans (chimpanzees, gorillas).

Observing the animal world and drawing parallels with human behavior, ethologists suggest that our great-great smile is a warning. It means: if something goes wrong, then know that I have strong teeth with which I can cause great pain. Like that nursery rhyme “Don’t get too close! I’m a tiger, not a pussy.” By the way, neither humans nor monkeys wave their paws threateningly like tigers - we don’t have terrifying claws. In the process of evolution and the construction of a more strict hierarchy among primates, a smile reflexively began to appear in order to pacify the aggressor (and not to frighten).

Psychologists also assure that human smiling is our shield, an integral social attribute. For socialization, we need to establish connections with the people around us, and here raised corners of the lips work no worse than “peace, friendship, chewing gum.” In human society, such facial expressions do not express a threat (with sharp teeth), but rather the absence of one. Read: I'm fine, I'm in a good mood, so it's safe to deal with me. Compare this with the opposite facial expression: do you want to communicate with a person whose mouth is twisted with grief, anger or disdain? Yes, even if you imagine 3 sellers: one with a stone face, the second stretching his lips benevolently, the third with his mouth tightly closed - which of them will you turn to? So we gradually approach another factor that answers the question: “What is a smile and why is it needed.” This is a social and commercial context. Those same old “gloomy” black and white portraits will help you figure it out.

Materials and research methods

The study involved 44 people, 26 of whom were women aged 18-35 years. As part of the experiment, participants had to answer a fairly difficult quiz presented on a computer that lasted 175 seconds. The level of difficulty, as well as the short duration, meant that volunteers often gave incorrect answers.

Each participant sat alone with a computer. Their facial expressions were recorded using special facial recognition software.

The researchers then assessed the correspondence between the participants' various moods and the times they smiled.

Each participant rated their own quiz experience on a scale of 12 possible moods, such as “bored,” “interested,” or “frustrated.” On the other hand, the researchers used facial recognition software to see how often the participants smiled.

When the corners of your lips reach for the sun

There are several explanations why people in Western photographs of the 18th century do not beam with 32-toothed joy. This is a long exposure time and the habit of posing for a portrait by the artist, in addition, the photographers themselves imitated the artwork. These are bad teeth or no teeth at all. And the most interesting and important thing in our context is that back then it was considered indecent to smile in public, exposing your teeth. If in the Middle Ages such facial expressions were something sinful, in the Age of Enlightenment they were considered a sign of stupidity, then according to Victorian canons, respected people (namely, those who could afford to take photos) should be serious.

“A wide smile was associated with frivolity, depravity, bad manners, drunkenness and other human qualities that were considered extremely indecent in high society. – explains the director of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, Angus Trumble. “Therefore, in life and in art, only drunks, crazy people, poor people, clowns, and children who had not yet been “corrected” by school, barracks or prison showed a smile freely.”

O tempora, o mores! But it was also not good for a Soviet person to walk around with a “satisfied face”, there are a thousand and one arguments for that. Starting from the suffering philosophy of Orthodoxy (despite atheism), fear of the evil eye and envious people to wariness towards unfamiliar people and a generally difficult life in which there was almost no reason for joy or optimism. Remember even the catchphrases: “Why are you smiling like a fool?”, “Laughter for no reason is a sign of a fool” and the like.

When did you realize that smiling is good, necessary, useful and even beneficial?

Speaking about the Western world, the beginning of a smile-friendly society is considered to be the 30-40s of the 20th century. One of the triggers was the first Hollywood films, when viewers saw the faces and emotions of actors close-up. Then the American dentist Charles Pincus did a good job of promoting himself, declaring that a movie star needed perfect teeth. And the artists, in turn, did not lose the opportunity to show off their even, snow-white smile to the camera. Charismatic actors and beautiful actresses set a new trend that not only fans liked! US President Franklin Roosevelt and his ambassador Joseph Davis resorted to the hypnotic effect of Hollywood as a secret tool to appear benevolent and attractive (there is a version that it was they who came up with the idea of ​​saying “cheese” while taking photographs).

Numerous social and laboratory experiments added fuel to the fire. The media quickly brought them to the masses: “a smile makes us more attractive to the opposite sex”; “cheerful people are more successful”; “optimism improves mood, health and prolongs life”... Popularization of spiritual practices and esoteric ideas, a surge in literature/training on personal development and the concept of positive thinking. All this resonates in our hearts, especially among those generations who are tired of suffering and afraid to show a good mood. Yes, we have become more smiling, but less sincere, which is typical for a fake smile.

Results of scientific work

“Our research shows,” says Dr. Witchell, “that smiling is not caused by happiness; it's about passion, which acts as social fuel for smiling, even when you're interacting with a computer."

The researchers found that participants did not smile when they tried to answer the quiz questions. They smiled after they answered the questions and when the computer confirmed whether the answers were correct or incorrect.

However, it is worth noting that participants were most likely to smile when they discovered that they had given the wrong answer.

Analyzing the study data, the scientists concluded that mood was not associated with smiling. This suggests that smiling can sometimes be an unconscious social response.

How does a smile affect a person?

A smile gives joy

At the University of Parma (Italy), neuroscientists Giacomo Rizzolatti, Luciano Fadigoi, Vittorio Gallese and Leonardo Fogassi discovered mirror neurons. They make it possible, looking at a person, to feel his mood and emotions. Simply put, when you see someone happy and smiling, your mirror neurons allow you to feel their happiness, which makes you feel happier.

It has also become known that smiling stimulates the pleasure center in the brain, causing the release of more endorphins, even more than sweets. Ivan Pavlov, the famous physiologist, studied the reflex connection between what a person sees, hears or does and changes in the functioning of internal organs. So, a smile reflexively triggers the release of joy hormones, among other things, because in the psyche it is associated with a state of joy. British scientists, in turn, found that one smile in terms of the strength of a positive brain reaction is equal to 2,000 bars of chocolate or the joy of receiving 25 thousand dollars. It turns out that children who smile 400 times a day experience as much joy as millionaires with $10 million in their accounts.

A smile brings success

An unusual study was conducted at the University of Berkeley (USA). They took photo albums of graduates, measured the width of their smiles and tried to predict how successful they would be in 5 or more years. And then they checked the predictions and turned out to be right in their assumption: the graduates who smiled widely in the photo scored high on well-being tests, they had strong marriages, and the people around them considered them respectable citizens. By the way, one of the students in these albums was Barrack Obama - in the photo he practically glowed with a radiant smile.

A smile decorates

When you smile, you look better to others! For example, at Penn University (USA), based on the results of many surveys, they found out that smiling people seem beautiful, polite and competent to others. Even if a person does not see you (for example, during a telephone conversation), and you smile at him, he feels your good disposition towards him.

Smiling prolongs life

Popular wisdom says: “laughter prolongs life.” It is nothing more than a popular observation that smiling people live longer. If you want to look better, be more confident, reduce stress, improve family relationships, feel like you ate a piece of cake or a bar of chocolate, find money, if you want to live longer, healthier, happier - SMILE, SMILE, SMILE! :):):)

In 2010, Wayne University (USA) conducted a long-term (more than 10 years) study of the life expectancy of baseball players and found out that players who smiled in their photographs were, on average, more productive and lived longer. Smiling players lived on average 80 years, but gloomy and serious players lived less than 72 years.

Paul Ekman from the University of California, in a study of facial expressions, learned that smiling is a universal emotion. In Papua New Guinea, members of the For tribe, living in complete isolation, described the reasons for their smiles in the same way as the inhabitants of Europe. Smiling is a universal expression of humanity: no matter who you are or where you live, you smile to express happiness and satisfaction.

Smiling improves health

Unlike a lot of sweets, a lot of smiling can improve your health. Reduce the level of stress hormones in the blood (cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine) and increase the amount of happiness hormones (endorphins), and also bring your blood pressure back to normal. If you smile for 20 seconds, then your mood reflexively begins to improve. A minute smile triggers the production of endorphins. And smiling for 5 minutes normalizes blood pressure and pulse, and reduces stress levels.

How many times a day do you smile? And are you happy? Maybe we should start smiling?! :);):)

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Image 2

If you chose the second image, then you are endowed with strong self-control. You take problems to heart, but know how to control negative emotions. You have an exceptional ability to maintain a balance between a tough mind and an open soul. People of your type choose creative professions, paint or sing talentedly, so they remain the center of attention in the company.

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All those who chose this image as an answer know how to maintain balance in their lives. Whatever the situation, you keep telling yourself that this too shall pass. Give people advice more often; you have a clear talent for helping people.

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Smile! What for? The other side of the "American smile"

Record-breaking smiley in ten minutes

World Smile Day, which is celebrated on October 5th, has quite an interesting history. Just like the now famous all over the world emoticon in the form of a smiling face. Both the holiday and the cheerful emoticon were invented by one person - American artist Harvey Ball. And at first there was a face.

Harvey Ball

In the early 60s of the last century, the management of one of the US insurance companies, which was experiencing difficult times in business, turned to Ball with a request to come up with some bright, memorable symbol to “raise the spirit” of its employees. So that they smile more when meeting clients, and so that the clients’ mood improves. Harvey, by his own admission, spent about ten minutes on this work (his fee was fifty dollars), and the result was that funny face.

“Once having put on a red clown nose in an attempt to lift the spirits of the sick, Adams never parted with it and even created a separate institute working in this direction.” Quote from the material “Laughter is a serious matter! Who will the cheerful medicine help?

Unexpectedly for the author, the emoticon became so popular that it began to be used in a variety of areas of human activity, including the production of badges and matchboxes. The face even appeared on one of the postage stamps, fortunately Ball did not register copyright for this find.

And when in the “seventies” two Spanish brothers came up with the slogan “Have a Happy Day” for an emoticon, it generally became a record-breaking sign that accompanies everyone everywhere today.

When a smile “for export” is not desirable

And now about the so-called “American smile”. What it is? Residents of the northern countries, restrained in their emotions (including Russia), look with some surprise - and sometimes there may be irritation here - at the Americans smiling from ear to ear with or without reason.

But in the USA this is the way it is. Successful people are valued there—successful, first of all, in business. And if you don’t smile, it means that your business is not going well, it means that as a potential partner you are in the “risk zone” - and, ultimately, it’s better not to mess with you. This algorithm was formed from generation to generation, and over time, all of America, quite automatically, although perhaps the soul of a person and a cat was scratching, began to keep a “six by eight” grimace of success on its face.

American smile

But outside the United States, such a technique does not always work. The same McDonald's, and some other companies, when opening their representative offices in Europe, out of habit required their employees to greet customers with a wide smile.

To prevent sales from declining, Americans had to tone down their cheerful ardor

Europeans, including Russians, did not perceive the US branded “sign of success” quite adequately: some saw in such a manifestation of unmotivated joy a “sign of foolishness,” while others thought that they were trying to flirt with them. In order for sales not to decline, the Americans had to reduce their cheerful ardor.

How does a smile affect a person?

At the end of the last century, some professional psychologists put forward a theory according to which a person, smiling - even if he doesn’t really want to, “I just can’t” - improves his mood. The conclusion, admittedly, is quite controversial. Imagine the situation: you have just been unexpectedly fired from work, you leave the boss who informed you about this, and begin to “enjoy life” with all your might, stretching your lips into a wide smile. Do you think it will get better?

Research shows that smiling too hard is bad for your health

On the contrary, research shows that smiling “forcibly” is harmful to health. Thus, the German psychologist Christian Dormann, having interviewed two and a half hundred call center employees, found out that by masking their true feelings with a professional smile when communicating with clients, every fifth of them sooner or later “acquires” stress syndrome.

Read the material on the topic: “Is there a vaccine against stress?”

Another survey - now we are talking about Dutch flight attendants, who are also forced to constantly “wear” a kind expression on their faces - showed that what bothers them more is not even the frequent change of time zones during constant flights from country to country, but namely the need to smile all the time on duty.

Will smiling help with depression? Your own - hardly. But if you see a sincere, kind smile on the face of the person who communicates with you, then your adversity may well seem to you not so insurmountable.

Perhaps the key concepts here should be considered “sincerity”, “kindness”, “participation”. Artificial joy on the face of your interlocutor will probably only aggravate your inner feelings. But a person’s genuine participation, his truly sincere smile, is guaranteed to provide you with real support.

Read the material on the topic: Nerves under control! How to maintain mental health?

Such help in our difficult age of speed, communication “on the run” and frantic work rhythm is simply extremely necessary. Let's think about it. After all, you must admit that in order to smile encouragingly at a loved one or just an acquaintance, you don’t need much effort at all. But the positive effect, believe me, will be difficult to overestimate.

Text: Igor Chichinov

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