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Scientist's Pick: Worth a Smile

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 Dimpled Smile: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:VirgilGriffithFace.jpg

Note: This month's "Scientist's Pick" is from Science Buddies' lead staff scientist, Sandra Slutz. Did you miss last month's "Scientist's Pick" write-up? Do you speak Ollie? ~ Science Buddies' Editorial Staff

Project: That's a Real Smile! ...or is it?
Scientist: Sandra Slutz
Science Buddies' Difficulty Level: 5-7

Maybe it's the fact that the holiday season is starting, or maybe it's the funny antics of my toddler - but either way I've been noticing people's smiles. And the truth is people smile a lot! But after a bit of people watching (a favorite activity of mine), I've noticed that not all smiles are created equal. For example there are the "I'm having a really good day" smiles, the "nice to meet you" smiles, and the "I'm going to plaster this grin on my face and look happy even if I'm not" smiles. There are probably a dozen more that you could separate out if you sat and watched people for a while.

So do you think you're any good at detecting "genuine" versus "social" smiles? After all that people watching, I sure thought I was! But after taking a 10 minute long Spot the Fake Smile test I was surprised to see how hard it is to tell the difference between a true smile and a false one. Sitting in the café watching people it seemed so easy; probably because of all the other social cues and context. But when it came to just watching videos of people smiling out of context, I wasn't very good at distinguishing the real smiles from the fake ones.

All this piqued my curiosity about the science behind smiles - and our instinctive ability to interpret or accurately read them. After a couple of hours of digging around in psychology literature, I realized that I'm not the only one who is fascinated by smiles. Scientists have been researching smiles for centuries! In fact it was the nineteenth-century French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne who first noticed that we use different muscles for genuine smiles versus social smiles. These two types of smiles also correlate with activity in two very different parts of our brains.

All these observations and research culminated in my writing a Project Idea about smiles for science buddies: That's a Real Smile!...or is it?

This science fair project, which is my scientist's pick of the month, lets you explore how good a group of people are at detecting different types of smiles, as well as their confidence in doing so. I had a lot of fun researching and writing the project. Hopefully, it will be just as fun for the scientists who try it out!

:) (genuinely),

Sandra

P.S. If you'd like to try another "science of smiling" science fair project check out Is Smiling Contagious?



If you enjoy watching people, check out the other projects in the Human Behavior section of the Science Buddies Project Ideas library.


6 Comments

I am not talking about your paragraphs but at the bottom you said, are smiles contagious? I think that they are not but to some people they might be because they are so used to smiling that they start to smile when they see someone else smile. And now I'm getting all confused with what I'm saying because I keep typing the word 'smile'. I have to go now. My mom's yelling at me to get off the computer and she looks like she's about to explode. Please give me a clue as to the real answer, or some scientific evidence to whether they are or not.

love this site i have a question im in discover and i need to know which project is good to use for a sixth grader in the electricity topic

um i contucted a experiment on id=f smiling is contagios at a local mall. I also made it clear that before christmas people are happy and after the are less likely to smile back!

no, its pretty obvious that smiling isnt contagious, but some people do it just to be polite

I love this project! its sooooo much fun! My friend and i had a blast doing this.:)

I did this experiment and really enjoyed it. i found it fascinating.

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