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Why we smile?

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We feel quite better when somebody smiles at us and we smile in return. Smiling person is loved most than one who presses lips tightly and glares at you. Smile’s magical in human society. It helps in winning people’s hearts and draw sympathy and favor. Smiley and emoticon has become integral part of text messaging and chatting applications around the world.

Why we smile at each other so obviously - without training or compulsion? Answer’s both exciting and bizarre. Let’s understand how we came to know about its origin.

Very few of us might know that our primate cousins (apes and monkeys) also smile at each other. In their society, smiling has lot to do with social harmony, dominance and survival ultimately. When two primates stand in front of each other or pass along side, edges of their mouth turn upward and teeth are displayed. By doing this, they make each other feel safe by passing a message, “Don’t scare. I’m not bearing teeth at you. I’m friendly.”

In social situation, direct eye contact made with enlarged eyeballs and pressed lips are sign of threat. If any person is confronting to such kind eye contact made by others for a considerable amount of time, it’s assured that it would result in either running away or retaliation (limbic flight or fight response). Elongated hostile gaze leads to parasympathetic distress and our primate cousins use same strategy smartly. Dominant male gorillas stare with hostile facial expressions to control large group of sub-ordinates and to derogate rebellions or rivals. It's sort of territorial invasion and also invitation to fight.

Thus smiling is comparatively less related with lips and teeth than eye balls and gaze. Orbicular muscles (Orbicularis Occuli) around the eyes contract while smiling to unconsciously convey that an individual is afraid of other person(s). Contracted orbicular muscles helps to protect eyes from possible attack and also reverse the effect of stronger gaze i.e. our eyeballs appear smaller. Separating both lips and turning their corners upward might have evolved to enhance orbicular muscles (Orbicularis Occuli) contraction.

Displaying teeth along with fearful gaze creates overall effect of harmless intentions. A thin band of Zomgatic muscles on both side of face arising from Zygomatic bone i.e. near ear and merging into Orbicularis Oris (circular muscles around mouth) and skin of mouth corners also contracts and pulls edges of lips upwards while smiling.

Smiling or looking at smiling faces associated with Endorphin (a neurotransmitter) secretion so as to induce happy feelings in mind even if smile is genuine or fake. We different kinds of smiles for expressing acceptance, approachability, innocence, happiness, friendliness, agreeableness, fondness etc. All these facial expressions are non-threatening for others.

We can portray 43 different kinds of smiles.

Following are apparent scenarios when we find somebody smiling (at each other):

A) Two familiar persons are walking on the street and suddenly watch each other. One of them waves hand at the other or calls him/her by name. Both smile at each other after coming closer at the distance where both can see each other’s face clearly.

B) An annoyed father scolds his baby in dramatic way and starts glaring at her, baby flashes a sweet smile and makes funny - innocent noise. Father’s annoyance disappears in moments and he also starts smiling at her in return.

C) A candidate facing interview smiles a brief while introducing himself/herself to interviewers.

D) A young you boy smiles at girl he finds attractive. Girl coyly smiles at him in return.

E) Two strangers bump on each other on crowded walk way. Both of them smile at each other and apologize.

F) Children wave their hands and smile at tourists riding a bus passing by them and commuters reciprocate by smile and hand wave.

G) A school girl offers a piece of cake to stranger baby with smile while playing in park. Baby returns an innocent smile at her and accepts cake.

Sachchidanand Swami (Nonverbal World) - August 9, 2011 (UTC)

Read related articles: Geninue Smile

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