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Smiles Across the Pond

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In a fascinating, counterintuitive finding (for Americans, anyway), Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California in Berkeley, found that the British have much more expressive smiles than Americans:

    British smile by pulling our lips back and upwards and exposing our lower teeth, Americans are more likely simply to part their lips and stretch the corners of their mouths.

    So distinct is the difference that the scientist behind the research was able last week to pick out Britons from Americans from close-cropped pictures of their smiles alone, with an accuracy of more than 90%.

    ….the British were also more likely to raise their cheeks when they smile, showing the crow’s feet at the corners of the eyes. This produces a more sincere, hard-to-fake smile.

    The most common British smile — restrained but dignified — is called the Duchenne smile after Guillaume Duchenne, a 19th century French doctor who analysed facial expressions.

    Keltner has nicknamed it the “Prince Charles”, as he believes the Prince of Wales has the typical British smile.

    “Charles shows his lower teeth fully using his risorius muscle that runs all the way around the mouth,” said Keltner. “It is a polite, formal expression of pleasure.

    “But it’s also very ancient, perhaps going back to the first smiles deployed by our ancestors when they invited other primates to co-operate rather than fight.”

    By contrast, Keltner found most Americans had the far less expressive “Pan-Am smile”, named after the defunct airline’s gesture of welcome. This depends only on the zygomaticus major corner-tightening muscle and has also been called the “Botox smile” because, like the cosmetic treatment, it leaves the muscles at the corners of the eyes motionless.

    Last week Keltner was able to identify correctly the nationalities of 14 out of 15 smiling mouths shown to him with the rest of the photo obscured. The one he failed to identify correctly was of Venus Williams. the American tennis champion.

    ….The genuineness of a good British smile is all in the eyes — Keltner has found that only 5% of people can fake a smile that uses this muscle.

Amazingly, smiles can also be used predictively:

    Keltner recently released a study of photographs of women in college yearbooks dating back to the 1960s in which he separated the Duchenne smilers from the artfully posed.

    Researchers then tracked the women down and found that those who had smiled most happily at college overwhelmingly tended to have had the happiest lives since they had graduated. “It’s a virtuous circle,” Keltner concluded. “Happy smiley people cheer others up around them, which in turn makes them more stable and less prone to depression or divorce than those who faked it in their yearbooks.”

Dude also has the itchy hots for Angelina Jolie:

    Angelina Jolie not only smiles broadly, and twinkles, but also tilts her head a little, which pushes the pleasurable body language into a higher gear. That is a smile which is impossible to resist.” [Times Online]

Are Americans more “showbiz” than Brits? Why would British smiles be more genuine? What does the “Pan-Am” smile imply?

(oops, no smile here)

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Pretty cool stuff. I’m impressed with the 90-percent accuracy rating. I wonder if the Scots were included or only the English?

    Now y’all have a nice day, sir, ya hear..And how can I help you ma’am.

    … But wait – does this guy hate America?

  • Eric Olsen

    good point: you would think there would be as many regional differences between Americans as between Americans and Brits – apparently we are united by our insincere smiles

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Distorted Angel

    Women are in fact often told not to smile broadly because it either accelerates or accentuates facial wrinkles, but I’m not sure why that would apply any less to women across the pond.

  • Eric Olsen

    they don’t care as much about how they look?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Scots don’t smile – at least based on my Scotts relatives. And have you ever watched Billy Connolly? He tells hilarious jokes, but sort of grimaces instead of smiling or laughing.

    Dave

  • Don

    I can’t rightly say why I smile the way I smile. Do I copy the expression that I’ve seen from others around me? Maybe. That would explain the lack of crow’s feet in my American eyes.