Faking it

Faking it

Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. That’s why a site where you can test your ability to detect fake smiles is especially intriguing:

Fake smiles can be performed at will, because the brain signals that create them come from the conscious part of the brain and prompt the zygomaticus major muscles in the cheeks to contract. These are the muscles that pull the corners of the mouth outwards.

Genuine smiles, on the other hand, are generated by the unconscious brain, so are automatic. When people feel pleasure, signals pass through the part of the brain that processes emotion. As well as making the mouth muscles move, the muscles that raise the cheeks — the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis — also contract, making the eyes crease up, and the eyebrows dip slightly.

Lines around the eyes do sometimes appear in intense fake smiles, and the cheeks may bunch up, making it look as if the eyes are contracting and the smile is genuine. But there are a few key signs that distinguish these smiles from real ones.

In a recent conversation, we speculated about the difference between laughing, simply saying “that’s funny,” or a combination of the two. Is one more genuine? Give it a try yourself.