If You’re Happy, Will We Know It?


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Fars News.com reports on the influence a smile can have on the observer’s perception of that person’s state of mind.  People deduce other’s states of mind greatly from the facial expressions they employ.

One of the longest standing questionable smiles is Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.  Is she happy, is she sad, what lies behind her smile?

Spanish researchers found out how much Mona Lisa’s smile truly confuses our emotion recognition and has most of us perceiving a face as happy even if it’s not.

The question being asked is, Is the Human Brain Capable of Identifying a Fake Smile?

David Beltrán Guerrero, researcher at the University of La Laguna explains,  The smile plays a key role in recognizing others´ happiness. But, as we know, we are not really happy every time we smile.  In some cases, a smile merely expresses politeness or affiliation.  In others, it may even be a way of hiding negative feelings and incentives, such as dominance, sarcasm, nervousness or embarrassment.

The authors of the study, employed faces with both smiling mouths and eyes expressing non-happiness emotions and faces in both eyes and mouth express the same emotional state.

According the the article, the objective was to discover how fare the smile skews the recognition of ambiguous expressions making the observer identify those faces with happiness even though they are accompanied by eyes that express a different feeling.

The researchers found that when the task is purely perceptive — like the detection of facial features — the smile has a very strong influence, to the extent that differences between ambiguous expressions (happy mouth and non-happy eyes) and genuinely happy expressions (happy mouth and eyes) are not distinguished.  However, when the task involved categorizing expressions, that is recognizing if they are happy, sad or any other emotion, the influence of the smile weakens.

However, the influence of the smile disappears in emotional assessment (when someone is asked to assess whether a facial expression is positive or negative),  A smile can cause us to interpret a non-happy expression as happy, except when we are involved in the emotional assessment of said expression, Beltran highlights.

The reason for these discrepancies…A smile sometimes leading to the incorrect categorization of an expression is related to its high visual “salience” (its attention-grabbing capacity) and its almost exclusive association with the emotional state of happiness.

Test your ability to distinguish between genuine and social smiles: take our smile quiz!

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