10 Surprising Facts About Your Smile
Discovering the extraordinary behind the ordinary.
Since you use it every day, your smile might feel ordinary—but it’s actually incredibly interesting and surprisingly powerful! We usually connect smiles with happiness or joy, but we use them to express a wide range of emotions. Since smiles carry the same meanings across cultures, people have been studying them for decades—from the way they impact you and the people around you to the psychology behind them. As a result, we’re always learning extraordinary facts about the smiles we use every day! To help you understand your smile and to perhaps gain a new appreciation for the extraordinary qualities of this seemingly ordinary expression, we’ve gathered 10 surprising facts you might not know about your smile.
1. There’s a debate about how many different types of smiles there are.
There are three basic types of smiles, separated into categories based on how many of your teeth show when you smile. Beyond this, however, there’s a surprising amount of debate around how many types of smiles there are. This is partially because of the varied emotions that smiles can express, including joy, awkwardness or discomfort, disgust, and more, each of which causes subtle differences in our smiles and the facial muscles used to produce them. Scientists agree that there are at least nine types of smiles, but many studies put the number much higher. In their 1978 Facial Action Coding System, for example, Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen identified 50 distinct types of smiles.
2. Smiling can boost your overall mood and confidence.
When you smile, it’s not just the muscles on your face that get involved—your brain takes an active role in the process, too. It releases “feel-good chemicals,” including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. This actively boosts your mood and your confidence—even if you’re forcing a smile! It works because your brain automatically releases feel-good chemicals in response to the movement of the muscles in your face, independent from the emotions you’re feeling before you smile.
3. Fake and genuine smiles are controlled by different parts of your brain.
While a fake smile can still boost your mood just as much as a real smile, the two types of smiles have fascinating differences. Perhaps the most interesting difference is that they’re controlled by different parts of your brain. A happy smile originates from the limbic system, but a fake smile is controlled by the motor cortex. This difference makes sense when you think about it, since a genuine smile is an automatic response to happiness but a fake smile is adopted on purpose—and the motor cortex is the part of your brain that controls planning, controlling, and executing movement.
4. Smiling is incredibly contagious.
This might sound strange, but it’s true! The part of your brain that controls smiling when you’re happy is located in the automatic response area of your brain, a part of the limbic system called the cingulate cortex. When we see someone else smiling, it’s this part of our brain that’s stimulated, which causes us to smile back automatically. Studies have found that even pictures of someone else smiling elicit this response. In fact, even when participants are told to frown at a picture of someone smiling, it’s difficult for many to manage it. Smiling is so contagious that it takes conscious effort to avoid smiling back—and even then, we’re not always successful!
5. Your smile impacts the way others perceive you.
Studies have found that when you smile, people are more likely to view you as friendly, likable, and polite. A smile makes you look more open and relatable, and you’re perceived as more competent, too! This rationale does make sense: if you look unsure, anxious, or even neutral, you might be perceived as looking that way because you’re not sure what you’re doing. On the other hand, smiling makes you look more open and relaxed, which gives the impression that you’re competent and confident. These impressions can help you make friends more readily and appear more approachable and capable at work!
6. You look younger when you smile.
There’s a popular saying that smiling helps you look younger, but is there any truth to it? A small study at the University of Missouri-Kansas City indicates that it is! During this study, participants were asked to estimate the ages of people based on pictures. The people whose pictures showed them smiling were repeatedly categorized as younger than their real age, while those with a serious expression were categorized as older than their real age.
7. Babies are born with the ability to smile.
Babies often don’t have their first true “social smile,” which is when they smile intentionally, until they’re six- to 12-weeks old. Because of this, it’s often said that newborns simply can’t smile. In reality, though, babies are very capable of smiling as soon as they’re born. Thanks to high-definition scans, we now know that babies smile in the womb at 26 weeks after conception—and they smile frequently! Smiling plays a huge role in our lives, but it’s still truly extraordinary to realize just how early in our lives we start smiling.
8. People can “hear” smiles.
Have you ever been on the phone with someone and just known that they’re smiling on the other end? That’s not a fluke! When you smile, it changes the shape of your mouth and impacts the way your voice sounds. Even if we don’t realize it, we pick up on these cues, so we can often determine when people are smiling by the sound of their voice. One study even found that participants could identify the type of smile—or lack thereof—that the speaker was displaying based on sound alone.
9. Factors like culture and gender norms impact how often we smile.
It’s often reported that women smile more than men. To some extent and in some situations, this is true, but someone’s biological sex isn’t the inherent cause of this difference. According to a study that examined the data from 186 other different studies on the subject, the difference is largely due to factors like culture and gender norms.
You can see culture’s impact by comparing the differences in the frequency with which women and men smile between countries. For example, the difference is more pronounced in Americans and Canadians than it is in British people.
It’s also most pronounced when people know they’re being observed. Culture and gender norms are believed to influence this, as we’re more likely to act the way we think we’re expected to when we know someone is watching. This theory is further supported by the fact that the difference nearly disappears when people aren’t aware they’re being observed. Other factors that impact the difference between how often men and women smile are ethnicity, age, and social or occupational positions.
10. People who smile more often tend to live longer.
In another study, researchers looked at the pictures of baseball players on pre-1950s major league cards. Surprisingly, they found that players who had genuine, wide smiles in their pictures lived an average of seven years longer than those who didn’t smile in their pictures—reaching nearly 80 years old compared to 72.9 years old. This just goes to show the incredible power of your smile, not only for social interactions but for your overall health and outlook.
Let Bruce Sexton, DDS, give you a smile worth sharing.
While these smile facts might be new to you, a skilled smile makeover dentist understands smile psychology. Having a deep understanding of smiles and how you’ll use yours helps Dr. Sexton to design a smile that meets all of your needs. If you’d like to learn more about Wayland cosmetic dentistry near Grand Rapids, MI, feel free to call our office and schedule a consultation at any time!