The Smile model

All it requires is an upward movement of the lips. That’s what we are aware of anyway. Until animation artists tried to replicate the smile, it became painfully apparent that turning simple manipulations of the lips into smiles instead of grimaces was high art. The problem is that we are finely attuned to human emotion. We don’t just recognise smiles, we make out coy smiles, sinister smiles, apologetic smiles, happy smiles and innocent smiles. And we perceive fake smiles equally well. Or at least we think we do. So, getting not just the right expression but the right shade gets to be crucial.

This is further complicated by the fact that the same facial muscles that contract for smiles can also contract for sadness and disgust, for example. In a recent article – More to a Smile than Lips and Teeth, Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues surveyed a wide range of studies, from brain scans to cultural observations, to build a new scientific model of the smile. The link between faces and feelings is still not understood. Why do our lips curl when we are happy? And how is it interpreted as an expression of happiness or disgust by the person watching it?

I was reminded of an episode of the Miss World contest. The girls are repeatedly instructed not reveal their gums while smiling. It’s considered less attractive. They are just supposed to reveal a perfect row of pearly white teeth to dazzle the judges. And without grimacing. Talk about manufactured smiles – anything to win the crown.