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Different Types of Smiles

Different Types of Smiles

It Turns out there’s a Mouthful of Different Types of Smiles; but Very Few of Them are Pleasant

You may think that a smile represents a limited range of emotions. Generally associated with one form of happiness or another, smiles are, by and large, considered a positive thing. We could go into the age old argument of nature VS nurture to see why we actually do it. Are they hardwired to represent certain emotions, or do we rely on social cues to determine when and how to smile? Fortunately, these questions have long been answered , and part of these answers came the identification of no less than 19 different types of smiles. While we don’t really have the space to go into all of them in this article, we can tell you that very few of them actually portray happiness; many of them mask it, fake it or even show to others that we are, in fact, most certainly unhappy.

The Duchenne Smile: Unbridled Happiness

The first type of smile is the one that we are most familiar with. It uses the fewest amounts of muscles, activates the eyes and gives the appearance of genuine glee. Named for the scientist who ‘discovered’ it (through a remarkably unpleasant process of applying electrical shocks to living and dead faces) and the situations under which it occurs. This is possibly the only smile out there that cannot be mistaken for anything else but joy.

A Dampened Smile

The dampened smile, common in Asian cultures where it is taboo to show your emotions, are used to express joy in polite or public company where the Dichenne smile above might be seen as impolite. The interesting thing about this smile, and how it varies from culture to culture, is how it demonstrates that not only are we hardwired to smile when we are happy, but we do it according to social norms as well.

A Fearful or Nervous Smile

This one was discovered, oddly enough, by observing bonobo chimpanzees. At first it was seen as a way to show submissiveness by drawing the lips back to reveal the teeth to show a superior other that the chimp was not planning on biting. Until eventually a researcher noticed a chimp doing it right after stealing a rock from another. While some felt that it was a mischievous smile, animal behaviourists tend to agree that it was in fact demonstrating nervousness.

Now the interesting bit is that we tend to smile in a similar manner when we are nervous or feel the need to be submissive in front of superiors.

The Misery Smile

Smiling and misery, you may think, have no place alongside each other, but corpuses of research will tell you otherwise, and we can blame universal social taboos for this one. In a culture where it is improper to publically display misery, a stoic smirk can relay our feelings of misery, depression and unhappiness in an acceptable way.

Qualifying, Complying and Listening

These are sneaky smiles, traps if you will, and are used, for the most part, to soften the blow of bad news. Just think of the annoying slim-lipped smile you get the airport clerk informs you that your flight will be delayed for another eleven hours, then consider for a moment what it is that compels you to smile back at them in the same way.

The same type of smile has been observed when we comply to a request we don’t really want to do, as well as when we want to be perceived as listening to someone.

Schadenfreude Smiles: Malicious Joy

I wanted to cut the article after the last paragraph, but how can I not write about something as intriguing as a smile that signals malice. Malicious joy, if ever there was an emotion that needed concealing, is it; and we all feel it when we see someone we don’t like failing or going through a hard time. It’s the perfect mixture of happiness and contempt and can be described like this:

You see something unfortunate happen to someone you dislike, you smile about it, imagine you are being watched, try to plaster a look of shock or disdain over it. The two expressions merge into a smile of malicious joy.

Craft the Perfect Smile for Yourself

Whichever smile you plan on using the most today, make sure that yours is as impactful as can be. Visit Dr. A Sidelsky, a professional practicing dentist in Sandton, or take a look at our website today for further information on

Dr A Sidelsky