The 7 Types of Smiles and How People Perceive Them

Published on: 02 Oct 2015
world smile day feature image

Studies have proven smiling has positive psychological effects on the person who smiles and the people who see it. With this in mind, Harvey Ball created the smiley face symbol in 1963 and declared the first friday of every October World Smile Day in 1999.

We agree smiling is great and worth celebrating, but not all smiles are created equal. Each one will cause people to perceive you in a slightly different way. Keep reading to see each smile so you can learn how to leverage the great ones and spot the fakes.

The Duchenne Smile

duchenne smile vs non duchenne Joe Biden Jon Boehner
image courtesy of US News

Named after French neurologist Gillaume Duchenne, the Duchenne smile is genuine and natural, guaranteed to give those who see it a little rush of serotonin. It involves smiling with your mouth and eyes. It has some involuntary contractions in it, so it’s hard to fake. Remember, a fake smile usually doesn’t use the eyes.

The Pan Am Smile

pan am smile flight attendant

Sometimes people in customer service have to put on smiles to hide how upset their customers are making them. Defunct airline Pan Am trained their flight attendants to do this to the point where the smile is the the only thing left of the company. The Pan Am smile does not use the eyes and relies on our motor cortex while the Duchenne smile uses the limbic system. 

If you work in customer service and want to convince your customers you’re happy to see them, use your eyes!

The Closed-Lip Smile

closed-lip smile Michelle Pfiefer

This can show someone is hiding something or apprehensive about the situation. It can be natural and uses eyes the way the Duchenne smile does, but does not always convey joy. Someone might be happy about something they don’t want to talk about, or they’re trying to hide being uncomfortable.

The Botox Smile

botox smile perception woman yawning

Botox makes wrinkles less visible, but it can relax people’s faces to the point where big smiles are difficult. Named after this side effect, the Botox smile has a relaxed, almost expressionless upper face. You don’t need Botox to do it. You might be really tired or trying to smile through sadness.

The Lopsided Smile

Jake Gyllenhal lopsided smile

Some people have naturally lopsided smiles, in which case it doesn’t have much meaning and is more like that person’s version of a Duchenne smile. Other times, it conveys mixed emotion or a sense of wariness.

The Turn Away Smile

turn away smile Shannon Montez photography
image from Shannon Montez Photography

Embarrassment can cause this, but people can also purposefully do it to be alluring or secretive. The angle makes you look younger as well. Charles Darwin noted some of its effects while researching animals.

The Forced Smile

forced smile world smile day

This is when someone tries to hide how uncomfortable they are and fails miserably. Whether it’s during a date or a job interview, they are easy to spot and will not make the observer feel great about the situation.

As with many things in life, it seems being natural is best. There is, however, nothing wrong with trying out some smiles on your peers. Celebrate World Smile Day and let us know how it goes!

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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