There Are 19 Different Types of Smiles

Not all smiles are the same. This is because they don't all signify happiness or enjoyment. In fact, they sometimes show the opposite, like sadness or anger. At least, this is what Duchess de Boulogne, a French neurologist, discovered.
There Are 19 Different Types of Smiles

Last update: 03 June, 2021

The first person to discover that there were different kinds of smiles was a 19th-century French doctor named Duchenne de Boulogne. This man is considered one of the pioneers of neurology and an authority on smiles.

Over time, the findings of Duchenne de Boulogne have been fully validated. This doctor was obsessed with the use of electricity for medical and therapeutic purposes. More particularly, he focused on the study of facial expressions. One of the topics he studied in depth was the different types of smiles.

During his investigations, he came across a man who suffered from facial insensitivity. In fact, the doctor was able to connect a number of electrodes to the man’s face without causing him any discomfort. Consequently, he managed to identify the different groups of muscles involved in facial expressions.

He also managed to identify 19 different types of smiles. Furthermore, he established that only six of them are really genuine. In other words, smiles that reflect real joy, pleasure, or happiness. The others express rather different feelings. These include fear, anger, and contempt, among others. These are the most interesting:

“It’s easier   to  get what  you want   with a  smile than the tip of the sword .”

 -William Shakespeare-

A cup of coffee.

Sad smiles

Strange as it might seem, sometimes sadness is portrayed with a smile. In fact, several types of smiles reflect painful feelings. They might occur in situations that are both positive and negative at the same time. Here are some examples of sad smiles:

  • The miserable smile. Your lips form a slightly asymmetrical smile, but your eyes are filled with sadness. According to a study conducted by the University of San Francisco, it’s the typical smile of a silver medal winner at the Olympic Games.
  • The fear smile. Sometimes you smile out of fear. It happens when you feel helpless and you might smile to show the other person you’ve no hostile intentions towards them. This is also the type of smile you might display to a person you consider to be of a higher status than you.
  • The lonely smile. This is a barely perceptible smile that’s sometimes accompanied by a slight expression of sadness. It only occurs when you’re completely on your own. Therefore, it’s not a shared smile.

Social smiles

Basically, all smiles are social. However, some play more of a significant role in relationships. These tend to be calculated expressions that always arise based on interactions with others. Within these kinds of smiles are:

  • The dampened smile. The kind of smile you repress for some reason. It’s a genuine expression of happiness. However, you might consider a smile to be inappropriate at this particular time which is why you contain it. In these smiles, the muscle strain of your containment is more visible than your smile itself.
  • The fake smile. This is the typical complimentary smile that you display when you want to be nice to others but you aren’t genuinely happy. The corners of your lips rise but your eyes remain expressionless.
  • The embarrassed smile. This smile is often accompanied by a tilt of your head and, often, a blush. You might also laugh to take away the tension from the situation.
  • The flirtatious smile. This is a suggestive and enigmatic smile. Your eyes narrow slightly and you show a mischievous expression. Experts suggest that the Mona Lisa is a perfect example of this type of smile.
A woman smiling.

Smiling and showing aggression

Among the smiles that Duchenne de Boulogne discovered are those that have a meaning completely opposite to the real essence of smiling. These smiles express rejection, contempt, or even cruelty. Within these types of smiles are:

  • The angry-enjoyment smile. The smile that happens when you rejoice in the misfortune of others. This sentiment is otherwise known as schadenfreude or “malicious joy”. The smile is the kind that a typical villain exhibits.
  • The contempt smile. In this case, you smile but the rest of your face shows anger. It happens, for example, when someone has ridiculed you and everyone else laughs at you.
  • The qualifier smile. This is the smile that tries to take the edge off bad news. For example, the smile of a salesman who tells you, “Sorry, the sale ended yesterday”.

There’s also the Duchenne smile. This is the most genuine. With this smile, not just your lips that turn upwards but your whole face reflects genuine happiness, especially your eyes. This is the most authentic and powerful smile of them all.

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Alonso, Á. L., Molina, F. C., Serrano, J. M., & Carriba, S. F. (2004). Neuropsicología de la percepción y la expresión facial de emociones: Estudios con niños y primates no humanos. Anales de Psicología/Annals of Psychology, 20(2), 241-259.

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