woman smiling

Facing the Facts of Life

In body language, the face is second only to the eyes in the amount of information revealed about a person. The first thing we look at when approaching a person is their face. Even at a distance, it tells us how the person feels about us. As we close the distance to speak, we watch their face to evaluate the status of our relationship. A fleeting subtle facial expression on a friend’s face can provide valuable information on the state of your immediate relationship from moment to moment. Always working is a part of the old brain called the amygdala that appraises if every situation and person are safe.

However, you must not be fooled by the gross facial expressions that can be falsely displayed. The face is easy to change in an attempt to display any emotion one desires. Here is this woman’s polite, insincere smile. Notice in her fake smile how she turns her face away. Overall, she is not facing directly and is partly hiding facial features. There are also subtle differences not evident in this picture.

Here is this woman’s real smile just seconds later. Overall, her face is more direct and open. A close examination would find different muscles at work in each case. Below are some major differences between a real smile and a fake smile.

Real Smile versus the Fake Smile

  • A real smile of joy usually has wrinkles in the corners of the eyes. A polite fake smile does not have the eye wrinkles.
  • Real smiles are normally symmetrical on the face. Fake smiles usually are nonsymmetrical.
  • Real smile muscles and nerves (i.e. 10th cranial nerve) can only fire for a maximum of approximately five seconds. Fake smiles can last a lifetime.
  • A real smile is an involuntary action of many muscles that are controlled primarily by the old brain center. A fake smile is a voluntary action primarily of just the Zygomaticus Major muscle on both sides of the lips.

You Can Not Hide Behind a False Face

Even if the face displays a false emotion, the body posture and movements will still reveal the truth. In all cases when you are observing body language, be sure to take into account the facial expressions, as well as the body posture, voice, and frequent habitual movements.

The permanent lines in the face reveal a person’s past long-term history and personality traits. For example, ‘worry lines’ in the forehead indicate guess what: a person who is constantly worried. Their every expression is tainted with worry until the lines become a permanent feature of their face for all to read.

About Revealing Face Expressions

Facial expressions can change in a fraction of a second. These quickies are true expressions that leak through a forced fake expression. For example, a fake smile of greeting can change almost instantly to a not-you-again look of contempt and back to the fake smile in a fraction of a second.

Research using stop-motion video recordings has identified fleeting moments of contempt between men and women partners. Their facial expressions and words were congenial 99.9% of the time, but momentary flashes only the camera caught were evident showing contempt for their partner. This contempt showed up as a very quick jerk of the buccinator face muscles that pull the lip corners back and creates a sneering look. Using such a technique, researcher and psychologist John Gottman can analyze fifteen minutes of interaction between couples and predict with 85% accuracy whether they will be divorced within six years!

Our body language cues are generally recognized by everyone unconsciously because we all have them in our DNA repertoire, and we display them unconsciously when we are in each emotional state. Emotions are normal and displaying them is healthy. It is unnatural and unhealthy to hide one’s emotions. That surely leads to physical illness, if not mental illness also. It is also very healthy, mentally stimulating, and fun to make facial expressions consciously as you speak.

Speaking without facial expressions is all too common in some cultures. Let yourself not continue that dull practice if you have been doing so in the past. Exaggerate your facial expressions (and throw in somebody movements, too) for a while and see how that affects your relationships in positive ways! It will make you more interesting and may attract some new exciting friends! (But don’t overdo it like in this picture!)