Smiling in humans is a strange phenomenon. It appears in almost every culture on the planet, and is almost universally recognized as a sign of happiness. But beyond being a near universal gesture, smiling has complex effects and uses. The answer to the question of why we smile and what it means is truly fascinating.
Smiling in the animal kingdom
Most people think of smiling as an expression of happiness. And while happiness is usually why a person smiles, there is a lot more going on with a smile than just happiness. In animals, baring the teeth is a warning or show of fear.
Charles Darwin theorized that humans adapted the smile as a greeting. Smiling and laughing can also still be a fear response in humans as well. If you have ever had the urge to laugh during a sad moment such as a funeral, when threatened with physical violence, or other situation where it would seem very inappropriate, this is what is going on.
The human instinct to smile
So how did we get from smiling being a fear response to being a sign of happiness? The answer to this question is rooted in another question that psychologists have long sought to answer: is smiling an innate or learned behavior? There are many studies that seek to answer this question, and the results are sometimes contradictory.
Images of fetuses in the womb appear to offer evidence of smiling, and children seem to smile from happiness as well, but whether it is innate or learned from observing parents is unknown. It is known that children do not generally smile until they are six weeks old. Another point of evidence is that feral children (children who were raised without proper social interaction and affection) do not generally smile, however there are only about a hundred cases of feral children so the evidence is thin.
Real Smiles vs. Fake Smiles
While it is not clear whether smiling is an innate reaction to happiness, what is clear is that there are two types of smiling: Genuine smiling and fake smiling. I genuine smile extends to the eyes and releases endorphins (pleasure causing chemicals) into the bloodstream.
A fake smile that does not extend to the eyes will not cause the release of endorphins. Another interesting aspect of smiling is that it can be contagious. Most people who see another person smiling at them will instinctively smile back.
The reason that we know there are two different types of smiles is because stroke patients who have lost the ability to smile at will (fake smile) are still able to smile involuntarily when they are truly happy.
Smiling and the law of attraction
Smiling also plays a big role in attraction. Many informal surveys have ranked a person’s smile as one of the first things they notice and that a good smile is high on their list of things the look for in a potential mate.
And because smiling releases endorphins and it is contagious, smiling when you meet someone will make them remember you favorably, because the memory is tied to good emotions. This is why smiling at a stranger can put them at ease around you. A secondary social function of smiling is that it is an indicator of health.
Smiling exposes the teeth, and if the teeth appear healthy, it is a good indicator of overall health as well. In modern society, good teeth are also an indicator of success as well, as those who can afford proper dental care.
So it turns out that we smile because we are happy, because we are afraid, to attract a mate, and to make people feel at ease around us. We smile in the womb, as young children, and as adults conducting business or when looking for a mate. And while we do not fully understand the complex psychological and physiological aspects of a smile, we do recognize its power as a form of social communication.
Author Bio: +Joseph Stan is a world renowned cosmetic and general Beverly Hills dentist in Beverly Hills California. His studies and experience make him a premier choice for dental patients looking for dental implants, dental veneers, laser teeth cleaning and many other cosmetic and restorative dental procedures.