Go ahead, contract those zygomaticus major muscles!

on Sunday, January 30, 2011


We all do it. It may be from a funny joke, an adorable puppy or a compliment from a friend but they all cause us to smile. Surprisingly, this behavior may be more complicated than we think. A recent article in the New York Times (More to a Smile Than Lips) interviewed Dr. Niedenthal (Blaise Pascal University, France) in regard to her research with smiles. The two main aspects which Niedenthal investigates are where they come from and how we perceive the different types of smiles.
Analyses of smiles have been underway since Darwin’s time when he too mused over the role such a behavior played in humans. A connection was drawn with chimpanzees, who often smile when watching their young play or when threatened and show their teeth. This variation is also seen in humans. We too have a “power grin” and even an embarrassed smile.
Yet, not only is it important to generate such behavior but also to interpret the smile given. Analysis of a smile has two approaches; the person may either compare the geometry of the “smiler’s” face to a regular smile or they can mimic the smile themselves. For example, if you are walking down the street and make eye contact with a person who smiles you will automatically mimic their smile. This then activates the same region of the brain as the “smiler”. The brain pattern differs between a happy smile as opposed to mimicking one. We then distinguish between genuine and fake smiles because when we mimic the fake smile a different region of the brain is triggered. To support such thought, Niedenthal experimented with test subjects who observed a series of images of people smiling (both genuine and fake). To prevent the test subjects from mimicking the smile in front of them, a pencil was placed in their mouth. As a result the viewer was less accurate at perceiving the smile by instead relying on the individual’s surroundings.


  • My blog post “Go ahead, contract those zygomaticus major muscles!” attempted to exhibit the writing tips we discussed in class last week. I tried to “hook” the reader in the beginning by not initially stating the topic of my post. Instead, I listed various situations which cause us to smile hoping to keep people reading in order to find out the topic of my post. I listed the two main aspects of Niedenthal’s research (where they come from and how we perceive the different types of smiles) hoping to arouse the reader and then fulfill their curiosity by discussing the above topics later in my post. I also made an effort to eliminate any usage of the passive voice. I do however, need to improve my writing to “show not tell” as well as formatting my blog post into a story format to make it more appealing to read.

3 comments:

Lucas said...

This reminds me about I study I heard of where people were told to hold pens in their mouths for a certain period of time like someone would hold onto a thermometer when sick. Then, they were told to watch a comedy movie with people who had not done the pen holding. It was found that the pen holders did not laugh nearly as much because of the way they held their mouths in the same position for so long, in sort of a non-smiling way. This has absolutely nothing to do with your post, which was very interesting by the way.

Mason Posner said...

I thought your post told a good story, and the comment at the end about the effect of pencils in the mouth made me glad I read the whole thing. Well done.

Try adding a full break between paragraphs. This will make your text look less like one big block.

Tom said...

I thought it was interesting that we can figure out whether a smile is genuine or not by mimicking it, and depending on which areas of the brain we stimulate can tell whether it is fake or not! How the human brain works amazes me!

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