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The Impact of Smile on Human Interactions: A Psychological Perspective

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The Impact of Smile on Human Interactions: A Psychological Perspective

Research Paper
The International Journal of Indian Psychology
ISSN 2348-5396 (e) | ISSN: 2349-3429 (p)
Volume 7, Issue 1, DIP: 18.01.115/20190701
DOI: 10.25215/0701.115
http://www.ijip.in | January- March, 2019
© 2019, Daniel John K.J; licensee IJIP. This is an Open Access Research distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any Medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The Impact of Smile on Human Interactions:
A Psychological Perspective
Daniel John K.J1*
ABSTRACT
Emotions have a great influence on the ways in which humans think, act and behave, and on
the process of interpreting and deriving meaning out of life situations. Happiness is one of the
primary emotions and the fundamental expression of happiness is a smile, a facial expression
formed by flexing of the muscles on both sides of the mouth, forming a curve. A smile is
perceived as a sign of warmth which foster human interaction. The purpose of this paper is to
explore the concept of smile from a psychological perspective in order to understand its
influence on human interactions. Research has attempted to uncover the biological,
psychological and socio-cultural impact of a smile on human lives at various levels of
analysis, including individual, dyadic, institutional, and societal influences. The act of
smiling could possibly be understood as a convenient and tranquilizing form of human action
which has abundant therapeutic value and potential for enhancing the individual, dyadic and
societal contexts to a great extent. Future research with regard to the impact of the smile
could probably be directed towards formulating an integrated approach in utilizing and
enhancing the power of smile therapy.
Keywords: Emotions, Happiness, Smile, Human Interactions
"We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do" (Mother Teresa).
Emotions constitute a significant part of human cognition and play a vital role in
determining the day-to-day lives of human beings. Not only humans but also animals are
capable of experiencing and expressing emotions in varying degrees. Emotions have a great
influence on the ways in which humans think, act and behave, and on the process of
interpreting and deriving meaning out of life situations. According to Ekman (1993), there
are six basic emotions which are universally accepted and experienced in all cultures. The six
emotions that he had identified include happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger.
Emotions to a great extent are conveyed through the facial expressions involving smile, tears,
and other facial gestures. The facial expressions undeniably correspond with the internal and
external affective states of the individual (Ekman, 1993). The communicative importance of
1 Associate Mentor, Center for Academic and Professional Support (CAPS), CHRIST (Deemed to be
University), Bangalore, India
*Responding Author
Received: February 22, 2019; Revision Received: March 27, 2019; Accepted: March 31, 2019
The Impact of Smile on Human Interactions: A Psychological Perspective
© The International Journal of Indian Psychology, ISSN 2348-5396 (e)| ISSN: 2349-3429 (p) | 1006
facial expressions has been acknowledged widely across cultures. It was Charles Darwin who
first spoke about the universality of emotional expressions followed by several
methodologists. It is known that facial expression of emotions is universal, that is similar
expressions convey similar meaning across time and location. However, the psychological
importance of facial expressions should also be considered while contemplating over the
underlying emotions.
Happiness as a basic emotion
According to Ekman (1993), happiness is the first one in the list of primary emotions. Being
one of the most popular emotions, the concept of happiness has been explored in biological,
psychological, socio-cultural and philosophical traditions from time to time. Though the
approaches of scrutiny seem to be varying, theorists unanimously define happiness as a
subjective state of mind that reflects satisfaction, contentment, pleasure or joy; and it has
been postulated that the root of happiness lies in the quality and positive evaluation of life.
On a philosophical note, happiness has been conceptualized as a state of the blossoming of
the human soul, rather being a basic emotional expression (Nelson, 2018). The fundamental
expression of happiness is a smile, a facial expression formed by flexing of the muscles on
both sides of the mouth, forming a curve.
Concept of Smile
The smile is a subcategory of facial expressions that come under the broad spectrum of non-
verbal communication. It could be either an intentional effort or an unintentional reaction to
other people and situations. A smile is perceived to be a positive expression that could share a
sense of nurturance among individuals. It has been attributed with the power to create
positive energy and intensify the effectiveness of interpersonal communication. Though it is
the simplest means of connecting with others, an authentic smile is considered to be a
powerful indicator of the warmth and positivity of an individual. A genuine smile is one of
the most influential, powerful, and persuasive parts of all body language, and perceived to be
contagious; as it has the ability to build up a sense of well-being inside the one who smiles as
well the one to whom he is smiling. Since time immemorial, the smile is perceived as a
welcoming sign which would foster better human interaction. It plays a vital role in
establishing and maintaining social relationships over the course of a lifetime.
Theoretical Background
An emotion, such as happiness or sadness, is a subjective experience that is associated with
some changes in the body and it results in the manifestation of related behavior. For example,
the feeling of joy is generally accompanied by a decrease in heart rate, implying a reduction
in the rate of physiological arousal, and the manifestation of an overt behavior, mostly a
smile; where a feeling of tension or nervousness is generally associated with palpitations,
increase in the rate of breathing, tremors or any other bodily changes specific to the
individual, as there occurs the manifestation of an overt behavior, mostly restlessness or
crying spells. The Facial Feedback Theory, which has its roots in the theories of Charles
Darwin and William James, states that emotional experiences or feelings could be managed
by producing different or alternative facial expressions. It was also suggested that the
individuals first read or infer from the facial expressions of the other person and then
experience a particular emotion. Existing literature has suggested that studies making a facial
expression, such as a smile, can produce effects on the body that are similar to those changes
that result from experiencing the actual emotion, such as happiness or joy.
The Impact of Smile on Human Interactions: A Psychological Perspective
© The International Journal of Indian Psychology, ISSN 2348-5396 (e)| ISSN: 2349-3429 (p) | 1007
Types of Smile
The existing literature states that there around 19 types of smiles of which only five indicates
real happiness (Gorvett, 2017). It has been suggested that each type of smile convey a
particular meaning and strengthens the channel of communication accordingly. The following
are the types of smile which are generally considered to be associated with happiness and
subjective well-being (Ekman, 1993):
1. Duchenne Smile: This type of smile is considered to be the true smile of happiness.
The Duchenne Smile is identified by the narrowed, twinkling eyes that leave wrinkles,
popularly called as “crow’s feet”, in addition to the upturned corners of the mouth. This
type of smile could be produced while having genuine human interactions where the
person is able to find own reservoir of happiness and gratitude, that is when he or she is
able to find real happiness and feel better while being in a particular context.
2. Fake Smile: This type of smile suggests that the individual is feigning true happiness as
the eyes do not reflect the sense of well-being while a fake smile is being produced. The
most appropriate example of this could be the smile of a person who is posing for a
photograph purposefully.
3. Uncomfortable Smile: An uncomfortable smile is produced when someone wants to
cover up their true feeling of discomfort. Usually, an uncomfortable smile could be
found when the person feels uncomfortable, such as while being asked an inappropriate
question or while being in a social situation which provokes inhibition and withdrawal.
4. Seductive Smile: Gorvett (2017) and her team had found that a slight smile
accompanied by direct eye contact, with a slow glance away, would appear on an
individual's face when he or she tries to be seductive. It was suggested that this type of
smile could be accompanied either by submissive or dominant behavior towards the
other person.
5. Sarcastic Smile: This type of smile is generally considered to be demonstrating the
conflicting emotions of amusement and dislike. It is suggested that a sarcastic smile
manifests a positive emotion where the mouth turns upward and the eyes can often get it
away, implying a look of disdain.
It has been suggested the functions served by a smile varies according to its type and how it
impacts the behavior of the individual as well as the response from others, however it has to
be presumed that a smile could be complex enough and convey mixed messages, just like
other facial expressions (Ronald, 2010).
Functions of Smile
The concept of the smile has been endowed with immense power in ensuring the
effectiveness of communication. It has been suggested that a smile is one of the most
common non-verbal means of communication used in human interactions (Kraut & Johnston,
1979). According to the emotional expression view, a smile is the most important component
of a facial display associated with and caused by feelings of happiness, pleasure or joy (Kraut
& Johnston, 1979). It holds the power to influence the channel of communication right from
the start till the end of the process of interaction. Abel and Kruger (2009) had suggested that
emotions are having a positive association with mental health, physical health, and longevity
of an individual. Selig (2016) had suggested that a good smile can make a person look
younger and thinner. It has been stated that smiling helps in enhancing mood and creating a
sense of well-being thereby creating a positive impact on the daily life functioning of the
individual to a great extent.
The Impact of Smile on Human Interactions: A Psychological Perspective
© The International Journal of Indian Psychology, ISSN 2348-5396 (e)| ISSN: 2349-3429 (p) | 1008
The impact of a smile on human lives
The act of smiling has been accredited as having a physical, psychological and spiritual
impact on human beings. Though a smile is a small gesture in terms of muscular movements,
the impact it could make on human lives is tremendous. Research has attempted to uncover
the biological, psychological and socio-cultural impact of a smile on human lives at various
levels of analysis, including individual, dyadic, institutional, and societal influences.
Ekman (1990) had suggested that children would smile approximately 400 times a day. In
fact, the frequency of smiling reduces as they grow up. Existing literature says that smiling at
a child is very important because of a number of reasons, as it plays a vital role in
maintaining the bonding and attachment between the child and parents, it helps the child feel
secure and safe, thereby contributing to the expansion of the child's understanding about the
world (Lewis, 2005).
It has been said that ‘social smiling' is learned practice and is nothing but an intentional
gesture of warmth towards others. It has been considered as a part of acquiring human
behavior as well as an advancement of the brain structure. Research suggests that smiling can
make alterations in the way the human brain develops by working on a powerful loop system.
The brain cortex sends messages (neuronal signals) to the brainstem and the cranial muscles
responsible for carrying signals to facial muscles initiate smile. When those muscles get
contracted, signals would be sent back to the brain and the person eventually receives a sense
of well-being. This loop continues as the brain gets rewarded every time.
The process is much quicker and frequent in children and they tend to smile more than adults.
It has been suggested that smiling behavior could help in strengthening the facial muscles,
instill a positive feeling and enhance the functioning of the brain cortex in children (Gerahrdt,
2015). A smile thus affects the physical growth and psychological development of
individuals to a great extent. It has been opined that an act of smiling results in the release of
feel-good-messengers that helps in reducing stress (Riggio,2012). As per the scientific
explanation, neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin would be
released to the bloodstream when a smile flashes across an individual's face, thereby helping
the individual experience a sense of relaxation to his or her body and mind. It has been said
that the orbitofrontal cortex, the region in the brain where the processing of sensory rewards
occur, gets activated while an attractive smile is being produced. The cingulate cortex, an
unconscious automatic response area in the brain, helps in maintaining the infectious nature
of smiling where an individual mimics the other person’s smile and experience subjective
well-being.
According to Riggio (2012), the results of a Swedish study had shown that the participants
had echoed the emotions of other people rather than following the instructions of the
investigator when they were shown photographs of different emotions such as joy, fear,
anger, and surprise. Being the most frequent facial expression, a smile could be delegated
with the maintenance of social functioning, as it serves to be means of facilitating reward,
affiliation, nurturance and negotiation in the hierarchy of human lives. The meaning of smile
conveyed across cultures tend to converge at the point where the account of social and
emotional functions of a smile is maintained as the same.
Implications
From the beginning of the early 1920s, several attempts have been made to understand how
smiling affects the interdependence and interpersonal functioning among human beings.
The Impact of Smile on Human Interactions: A Psychological Perspective
© The International Journal of Indian Psychology, ISSN 2348-5396 (e)| ISSN: 2349-3429 (p) | 1009
Human facial expressions, particularly smiling was considered to be making a huge impact
on the physical, emotional and socio-cultural functioning of the smiling person as well as for
others around the person. Smiling could possibly be understood as a convenient and
tranquilizing form of human action which has abundant therapeutic value and potential for
enhancing the individual, dyadic and societal contexts to a great extent. Future research with
regard to the impact of the smile could probably be directed towards formulating an
integrated approach in utilizing and enhancing the power of smile therapy.
REFERENCES
Abel E., & Kruger M. (2010) Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity,
Psychological Science, 21, 542–544.
Ekman P, Davidson, RJ, Fiesen, WV. (1990). Emotional expression and brain physiology: II.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 58,2,342-353.
Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and emotion. American Psychologist, 48(4), 384-392.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.48.4.384
Ekman, P. & Davidson, R. J. (1993). Voluntary Smiling Changes Regional Brain Activity.
Psychological Science, 4(5), 342-345.
Ekman, P. (2007) Emotions revealed. New York: Holt.
Friedman, Howard S., & Riggio, Ronald E. (1999). Individual differences in ability to encode
complex affects. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 181-194.
Gerhardt, S. (2015). Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain (2nd edn). East
Sussex and New York: Routledge.
Gorvett, Z.. There are 19 types of smile: but only six are for happiness. April 10, 2017.
Lewis, D. (2015). The secret language of your child: How children talk before they can
speak. New York: Souvenir Press.
Saaarni, C. (1999). The development of emotional competence. New York: Guilford Press.
Stevenson, S. "There's Magic in Your Smile." Psychology Today. June 25, 2012.
Acknowledgements
The author(s) profoundly appreciate all the people who have successfully contributed in
ensuring this paper in place. Their contributions are acknowledged however their names
cannot be mentioned.
Conflict of Interest
The authors carefully declare this paper to bear not conflict of interests
How to cite this article: Daniel John K.J (2019). The Impact of Smile on Human
Interactions: A Psychological Perspective. International Journal of Indian Psychology, 7(1),
1005-1009. DIP:18.01.115/20190701, DOI:10.25215/0701.115
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Emotional expression and brain physiology: II
  • P Ekman
  • Davidson
  • Rj
  • W V Fiesen
Ekman P, Davidson, RJ, Fiesen, WV. (1990). Emotional expression and brain physiology: II. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 58,2,342-353.
The secret language of your child: How children talk before they can speak
  • Z Gorvett
Gorvett, Z.. There are 19 types of smile: but only six are for happiness. April 10, 2017. Lewis, D. (2015). The secret language of your child: How children talk before they can speak. New York: Souvenir Press.
The development of emotional competence
  • C Saaarni
Saaarni, C. (1999). The development of emotional competence. New York: Guilford Press.
There's Magic in Your Smile
  • S Stevenson
Stevenson, S. "There's Magic in Your Smile." Psychology Today. June 25, 2012.