When we were kids and played on the same Little League team, UJ was known to our teammates as “Smiley.” He was the kid who always hit doubles and could run like a deer, as opposed to his tubby brother who was afraid that a pitch would hit him on the nose and break his glasses.
I’m pleased to say that all evidence indicates that UJ remains “Smiley” at heart. If you look at his Facebook page, it’s full of smiley photos. UJ is never introspective or contemplative in these photos — he’s usually wearing a bathing suit in blazing sunshine, tanned and squinting and flashing his gleaming white choppers with a lady friend on each arm. Our family dentist, Dr. King, no doubt thinks UJ is one of the greatest living advertisements for sound dental care and careful toothbrushing and flossing that ever walked the Earth.
It’s nice to know that some things haven’t changed since the Little League days. Come to think of it, I’m probably still afraid of being hit on the bridge of the nose by a pitched ball.
What really distinguishes a fake smile from the genuine article? And why do people give fake smiles, anyway? Science offers some answers.
We’ve all seen fake smiles — in school pictures, on the faces of clerks taking orders at Starbucks, from politicians, and in countless other scenarios. It turns out that people are better at detecting fake smiles in photos than in real life, because we tend to study photos more closely. And the key indicator of fakiness is not the position of the grinning mouth and bared teeth, but the eyes. A muscle around the eye called obicularis occuli contracts when a real smile flashes across the face, giving the eyes that crinkle that separates the real deal smile from the pretenders. Most people who aren’t actors, con men, or psychopaths just can’t control that muscle.
Studies also indicate that women smile more than men. The theory is that girls are encouraged from an early age to be more expressive emotionally than boys. Girls also learn faster than boys that a good fake smile can be an appropriate, polite, social response under certain circumstances — like when Gramma gives you a lame gift for your birthday. In view of that, it also should not be surprising that women tend to be more adept than clueless male brutes at detecting fake smiles in others and accurately determining what a person’s smile really means.
It follows that if people learn to give fake smiles, and then realize that people often can’t tell the difference, they may decide to wear a fake smile as a matter of course. When you walk down a Midwestern street and see people with smiles on their faces, how many of them are fake? No way to tell for sure, of course — but studies also show that people smile much more infrequently when they are alone.