Could a Smile Deceive? Social Expectations and Unfelt Emotions Affecting Human Facial Expression

Hausarbeit, 2001

15 Seiten

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This paper is about the expression of unfelt emotions displayed through smiles. Scholars, Hager and Ekman, are reporting that smiling is one of the most noticeable nonverbal expressions of the human face (Sussignan & Schaal, 1996). Although, in adults, smiles are associated with feelings of pleasure (Hecht & LaFrance, 1998), they could also consciously or unconsciously deceive recipients (Nagashima & Schellenberg, 1997). In a relationship, for example, one may smile while saying s/he likes the other. Is it a ìreal likingî or just a pretension? Smiles can carry different meanings. They could differentiate on how they appear on the face (Ekman & Wallace, 1984), in which situations they are likely to be deployed, and from the positive and negative emotions that are hidden behind them (Fridlund, 1994). This paper addresses the different types of smiles, their identifications, and the motives for displaying unfelt emotions. Furthermore, it will explain how smiles are interpreted between children, men and women, and cross- culturally.

Types of Smiles

Psychologist Paul Ekman, professor of psychology at the University of California at San Francisco, has found a technique that distinguishes more than fifty different smiles (1985). Each type of smile, such as showing happiness, is displayed with a different intensity (See Figure I). Although smiles are generated by positive emotions such as amusement, sensory pleasure, or enjoyment (Ekman, 1985), a variety of smiles may Could a Smile Deceive? 3



illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Ekman, P. & Keltner, D. (September/October 1998). Face it! Psychology Today

demonstrate negative emotion. Ekman & Friesen can distinguish about 18 of those such as the fear smile or the miserable smile (1984). For the purpose of this paper, two different types of smiles will be subject to the main focus- the false smile and the felt smile (Ekman, 1985). (See Figure II).


illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Ekman, P. (1985). Telling Lies,

Currently other researchers distinguish those two smiles by the Duchenne smile and the non-Duchenne smile. (See Figure III). In short, the two different types of smiles presented by Ekman could be similarly described with the two types discovered by the French neuroanatomist G. B. Duchenne de Boulogne in 1862 (Fridlund, 1994).


illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Fridlund, A. J. (1994). Human Facial Expression: An Evolutionary View. (Photographs made by the French Neuroanatomist G. B. Duchenne de Boulogne)

During a symposium on emotion, Paul Ekman declared that the failure to recognize that certain types of smiles had different meanings contradicted and confused the result of their experiments (1992). Now that we know that different types of smiles exist, it is valuable for a spouse, a customer, or patient to be able to find out cues on the identification of smiles in order to prevent deception.

Smile Identifications

Scientists describe the Duchenne smile as being displayed while feeling positive emotions (Ekman, 1992). While displaying a Duchenne smile, the encoder does not presume awareness of the smile displayed (LaFrance & Hecht, 1995, p.208). On the other side the non-Duchenne smile is a forced or deliberate smile that is activated by pulling (Ekman, 1992) the outer corners of the mouth, while forcing the cheeks to raise (Katsikatis, Pilowsky, & Innes, 1997). (See figure III). Although the Zygomatic Major is moving up voluntarily or involuntarily in the display of any types of smiles, Duchenne explained that the nerves (Orbicularis Oculi) located directly under the eyeball (Ekman, 1992) have its innervation activated (Matsumoto & Kudoh, 1993) only when true feelings are displayed (Ekman, 1992). While paying careful attention it is possible to notice the inactive Orbicularis Oculi nerves on a false smile (Ekman, 1992). (See figure II). Moreover, false smiles tend to be more extended toward the left side of the face (i.e., if the encoder is right-handed)1. Since the encoder of a false smile needs to monitor his or her face in order to display the desired impression, the smile onset, offset, and its overall duration is likely to be longer than a few seconds2. Oftentimes if a verbal statement precedes the expression of an emotion, the true feeling on the encoder is assumingly different from the one displayed (Ekman, 1985). Interviews with detectives of the Netherlands reveal that in order to find supported cues to deception, they usually begin to interview the suspects with a casual chat (Arij, 1995). As the questions led more toward the point, the facial expression of the suspects may change and therefore provide better cues. Harrigan & Taing found in their research that a person who voluntarily displays a smile might involuntarily move his legs or feet while shifting up and down. Gesturing reflects instances of restlessness. In essence, this personís behavior should be interpreted as an attempt to project positive emotions while actually feeling anxious (1997).

Motives for Displaying Unfelt Emotions

Some smiles are displayed because as young children, our mothers shaped us to smile when it is expected or appropriate. Other smiles are shown because the environments govern this type of behavior. On the other hand, a smile may appear on a face when someone wants to convince another person that a positive emotion is felt when actually it is not (Ekman, 1985). In his book ìUnmasking the Faceî, Professor Ekman and Friesen found that children learn from their parents to mask their true feelings. As a young child looks confused while facing a stranger, his or her mother may articulate: ìSmile at the nice man; he wants to help you!î Or once this child might be having a bad day before hearing from a sharp voice ì Look happy, your grandmother is giving you a present!î (1984). Due to societal demands (Ekman & Friesen, 1984, p.135), the display of facial expression will become ìdeeply ingrained habitsî (Ekman, 1985, p.125).

Psychologists at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris, led experiments related to childrenís expression of emotions while exposed in front of adult strangers. It was found that when the room had a pleasant odor, children accurately expressed Duchenne smiles. As the smell grew unpleasant, the children still smiled at the strangers; however, their smiles tended to have a longer offset, more tension was coming from lower face, and the eye contact was reduced. In short, those children presented false smiles at the strangers (Soussignan & Schaal, 1996). This strongly supports that the children may not have wanted to display any smile, as they smelled the unpleasant odor. Since the presence of adult strangers in the same room created a social environment constraint, the children felt the rule-governed behavior upon what they learned to be a must in social interaction. After movies have been shown to children with the company of their friends. Manstead, Fisher, and Jakobs deducted that ìthe relationship between feelings and facial displays depends on the social context of the eventî. While watching the movie alone, their smiles; however authentic, were less strong than while watching movies in groups (1999). The only time children can deliberately smile is before the age of one. Then, throughout their entire life, even with negative emotions, it will be useful or required to smile (Ekman, 1985).

Hecht and LaFrance (1998) performed an experiment to see how power and gender affect the amount of smiling. The study took place in a university television studio. Participants had their faces remotely videotaped from another room. In a setting of equal conditions, participants were randomly interviewed under the assumption that the interview was for the acceptance into a grad school program. In each dyad one person was designated to take the role of the interviewer and the other the applicant. Applicants were told that at each time the interviewer would accept a new student into the program, they would have their name dropped into a $100 prize lottery. Interviewers were appropriately dressed up, and asked to assume the position of the director of the Harvard Clinical Psychology laboratory. After the completion of the interviews, the results showed that social power affect the tendency to smile. It has been found that low- power people (applicants) expressed positive facial expressions even though they did not feel them. Applicants did smile more at the interviewer (high-power) than vice versa. Although interviewers smiled freely, because of their higher position, applicants found themselves in a ìno choice positionî but to smile back. In conclusion high-power people show more Duchenne smiles than low power people. Females in either low or high power position showed more smiling than men (Hecht and LaFrance, 1998). In an unpublished research, R. W. Levenson indicated that females express more non-Duchenne smiles than men (Hecht & LaFrance, 1998). In their book ìWomen and Genderî, Granford & Unger state that females overall are treated by others as low-power men (2000). They tend to display more non-Duchenne smiles because of their ìno choice positionsî. Another study showed that men with high testosterone are stronger and more dominant than those with low testosterone. Less dominating men displayed smiles more often than the dominant men did (Dabbs, 1997). From a social view, a less dominant person tends to be friendly. More smiles are expected from friendly people. In essence, the author said that dominant people would tend to express more confident, ridiculing, or sneering smiles. Since women in our society are pressured to care more about their facial expressions, they are generally not only better decoders than men but readily more able to pick up small differences between what would be perceived as a smile and a neutral expression. Males may see smile differences only when the facial displays are well marked (Katsikitis, Pilowsky, & Innes, 1997).

Cross-cultural research also shows a positive correlation between the display of false smiles (non-Duchenne) and the presence of high-power people. The participants were divided in two groups. One was supposed to judge smiles and the other neutral facial expressions. In the first group, 33 Caucasian Americans (12 males and 21 females) and 44 native Japanese (22males and 22 females) took part in the experiment. The second group included 37 Caucasian Americans (15 males and 22 females) and 47 native Japanes (24 males and 23 females). Each group had to rate pictures of faces switching every 10 seconds. The rating concerned choosing between NOT AT ALL (0), LITTLE (1), MODERATE (4), and A LOT (8) on the level of intelligence, friendliness, and attractiveness that the faces projected. The 52 pictures presented met the smile types and criteria from Ekman & Friesen. The results showed that both Japanese and Americans agree that the presence of smiles express more sociability than not smiling. It has been found that Japanese interpret non-smiling faces more positively than the Americans did. Whereas Japanese rated Americans faces more attractive, Americans ranked Japanese faces as more intelligent. Only faces expressing felt smiles have been used for this study. Finally, the author believes that if unfelt smiles would have been presented, results would have been different (Matsumoto & Kudoh, 1993)

In another cross-cultural study, Nagashima & Schellenberg focused on the differences between Japanese and American types of smiles displayed in certain situations. Whereas Japanese expressed slightly more intentional smiles at their fellow students, Americans had a small tendency to smile more often at the professor (1997). Despite earlier studies indicating great differences of smiling between cultures, this study resulted with no significant differences in smiling between Americans and Japanese while exposed to social differences; however the study supports general expectancy to smile at higher ranked people (Matsumoto & Kudoh, 1993). In conclusion to this study, Goffman suggests that when we are exposed in front of a salesperson in a department store, her type of smile may not matter as much as if she would not smiling at all. In many situations, smiles are deliberately controlled to create the right impression in which the setting requires (Nagashima & Schellenberg, 1997).

In some cases, people may want to display a smile in order to gain otherís approval. A study led by LaFrance & Hecht showed that the act of smiling may attenuate otherís judgment if something has been done wrong. Displays of smiles are rewarding; people who smile are likable. If smiling people are perceived trustworthy, good and honest, transgressors may display a smile conveying the idea that they deserve less punishment. During the study judges were able to discriminate reliably between felt, false, and miserable smiles. Depending of what the subjects judged, it has been assumed that the perception of a false smile may be enough for the transgressor to be left off the hook; however if the transgressor displayed a felt smile s/he might have been perceived to be reliable (1995).

Interpretation of Displayed Unfelt Emotions

Dill and Krull (1998) suggest that when the encoder displays a facial expression, the receiver will either draw a dispositional or a situational judgment. An example could be demonstrated when you saw Judy smiling ñshe must be a happy person. This is a dispositional judgment. From the same example a situational judgment could be drawn ñ Judy must have experienced an amusing or enjoying event (Dill & Krull, 1998). The conclusion of those experiments led by Dill and Krull show that perceivers are more likely to draw spontaneous judgment when a person is smiling3 ñJudy must be a happy person- than if she behaves in a sad manner (situational judgment) (1998). Emotion researchers Murphy, Zajonc, and their colleagues found that receivers tend to feel the display of a facial expression before to interpreting. Most likely, for example, if you see a flashing picture of Hitler smiling, your initial reaction will be positive before to realizing who was behind the mask (Concar, 1996). As noted by the above examples, for many centuries humans have reinforced the notion that the display of smiles is positively perceived by others. People will display smiles in several situations even if enduring negative emotions. How will the receivers be affected? Goffman acknowledged that decoders might in some situations accept expressed emotions they perceive to be spontaneous (e.g., felt smiles) or manipulated (e.g., false smiles) as valid. In other situations, receivers may question the validity of these facial expressions. However, they could either keep the doubt private or challenge it by asking the encoder what a certain display meant.

In counseling settings, research reveals that the nonverbal behavior displayed by counselors affects their expertness, trustworthiness, and attractiveness perceived by patients (Yul Lee, Uhlmann, & Haase, 1985). The experiment consisted of 47 volunteer counselor trainees (17 males and 30 females leading each a 20-minute counseling sÈance. Their clients were composed of 47 undergraduate university students (20 males and 27 females). The first 15 minutes of each sÈance was videotaped, and then different judges counted the frequency of non-verbal behaviors. After each sÈance, the clients were asked to complete some forms on how they perceived the counselors. The final analysis revealed that out of eight different non-verbal behaviors, smiles were rated in the fifth rank for the perception of trustworthiness and third rank for attractiveness. The smile showed to be the most important factor concerning the counselorsí expertness.

In an email interview, Dr. Matt Rushlau, director of the counseling center at Western Michigan University, suggests in counseling training that counselors should express genuine (negative or positive) facial expressions to their patients. However, it is important for them to display their felt emotions mildly (monitoring). He concludes by saying that strong display of felt emotions (negative or positive) could be detrimental to the counseling process (November 6, 2000). I deduct from this interview if the counselor masks his felt emotions; it could mislead and deceive the patients.

How does the display of unfelt emotions affect encoders? Researchers at the Southwest Missouri University studied how the display of unfelt emotions affected UK office workers. It was found that felt negative feelings were displayed only in 2 percents of their conversations. Welch believes that the false display of unfelt emotions impairs effective verbal communication between coworkers and managers (1997). Walt Disney and McDonaldís have written rules related to the display of emotional expressions. According to researcher from the USA and UK, a ìforced to smile work environmentî causes depressions, alienation and lack of identity to the company members. In short, expecting people to display facial expressions they do not feel could have damaging consequences (Welch, 1997).


An elaborate description of two main types of smiles has been presented. Out of the two types of smiles, one has been the main focus of this paper. In fact, the non- Duchenne smile (false smile) is displayed deliberately by controlling oneís facial expression thereby since not being genuine could possibly leading perceivers to deceptions. Throughout this paper several studies showed that people know that smiling conveys positive feelings to others. For this reason, it is common in many situations for people to smile at others even though no positive emotions are felt. Settings such as bars, fast food restaurants, or department stores are expecting working members to display smiles no matter what they feel. Not only settings are guiding what appropriate expressions should be displayed, but also our social environment. Studies showed how the low-power people have to smile at people of a higher status. People want to appear friendly. Although those smiles are not genuine, they are socially accepted. On the other hand some people may want to gain compliance through smiling. Smile studies are very complex. The expression of unfelt emotions could lead the receivers to be deceived. On the other side, in many settings such as costumer services or information desk, if smiles - most likely non-Duchenne smiles- are not displayed, the decoders might also experience deception. Finally, emotional display should be understood or at least explored by everyone. Unawareness of othersí facial expressions and oneís own might, depending of the settings, the situations, and with whom it occurs, cloud relationships between people with doubt and suspicion (Rosenberg, 1990).


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1 There is little controversy showing that the display of negative emotion occurs asymmetrically on the left side of a face (Asthana & Mandal, 1998)

2 Genuine smiles take even less than a second

3 Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles

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Could a Smile Deceive? Social Expectations and Unfelt Emotions Affecting Human Facial Expression
Western Michigan University
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Daniel Sciboz (Autor), 2001, Could a Smile Deceive? Social Expectations and Unfelt Emotions Affecting Human Facial Expression, München, GRIN Verlag,


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