The human smile is a powerful thing. To elevate mood, inspire empathy, or calm a fast-beating heart, you don’t need a gleaming row of perfect pearly whites. One YouTube baby-laugh video is enough to demonstrate that even an entirely toothless smile is a wonder-worker.
Researchers who study the effects of human smiles know that the Duchenne smile is among the most influential of human expressions.
A Duchenne smile is the one that reaches your eyes, making the corners wrinkle up with crow’s feet. It’s the smile most of us recognize as the most authentic expression of happiness.
Non-Duchenne smiles shouldn’t necessarily be considered “fake,” however. A more accurate way of describing them might be “polite.”
Polite smiles can communicate social pleasantness, and they can even signal discreet
A Duchenne smile is produced by the joint action of two facial muscles. The zygomaticus major muscle lifts the corners of your mouth while the orbicularis oculi raises your cheeks, causing the subsequent laugh lines at the outside corners of your eyes.
This kind of smile is named for
Charles Darwin discussed the Duchenne smile, noting, as many
Duchenne developed an early biopsy device he called a “histological harpoon,” as well as an electrical device that stimulated contractions of muscles so he could study their movements.
He conducted some of his experiments on mental health patients and on the severed heads of executed criminals.
They can elevate your mood
Smiling has been shown to change how you actually feel. Studies in the field of facial feedback show that information from the muscles in your face can influence your emotional state.
But what about the Duchenne smile? Does it have particular power over emotion?
They can help us connect
Neurobiologist Peggy Mason
When one person — in homeroom, in a Zumba class, or in a virtual meeting between remotely working colleagues — looks at another and smiles, a brief bond is formed. In a world where digital social interactions may mean more loneliness, that real-life, real-time human connection has power.
They can change your body’s stress response
A 2012 group of
They found that heart rates among the smiling group stayed the lowest during stress recovery, with the calmest hearts being participants who had Duchenne smiles.
The study’s authors concluded that, “there are both physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.”
They shape how others see you
Studies also show that a Duchenne smile is quite persuasive. In fact, Duchenne smiles are often associated with positive customer service experiences, and they may even get you better tips in service industry jobs.
Scientists used to believe it was impossible to fake a Duchenne smile, but we now know otherwise. Some super-skilled communicators can produce a Duchenne smile intentionally.
And if you can produce a genuine smile as a matter of intent, maybe you should start practicing. Beloved Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh once observed, “Your joy can be the source of your smile, but sometimes, your smile can be the source of your joy.”
The Duchenne smile is an expression that signals true enjoyment. It occurs when the zygomaticus major muscle lifts the corners of your mouth at the same time the orbicularis oculi muscles lift your cheeks and crinkle your eyes at the corners.
This kind of smile influences how other people see you: Duchenne smiles make you seem trustworthy and generous, which may make people respond positively to you in a variety of settings.
Smiling with your eyes and your mouth can lift your mood, calm you down, and help you forge connections with other people. And yes, you can create a Duchenne smile intentionally, to influence your own body and mind or to influence other people’s impressions.