Smiling doesn't necessarily mean you're happy

September 7, 2018, University of Sussex
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Smiling does not necessarily indicate that we are happy, according to new research at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).

It is widely believed that smiling means a person is happy, and it usually occurs when they are engaging with another person or group of people. However, a new study led by body language expert Dr. Harry Witchel, Discipline Leader in Physiology at BSMS, shows this is not always the case.

Dr. Witchel claims that the way people often behave during one-to-one Human-Computer-Interaction (HCI) is as if they were socially engaged.

His research involved asking 44 aged 18-35 to play a geography quiz game consisting of nine difficult questions so that they often got the wrong.

Seated participants interacted with a computer alone in a room while their faces were video recorded.

After the quiz, the participants were asked to rate their subjective experience using a range of 12 emotions including 'bored', 'interested' and 'frustrated'.

Meanwhile, their spontaneous facial expressions were then computer analysed frame by frame in order to judge how much they were smiling based on a scale of between 0 to 1.

Dr. Witchel said: "According to some researchers, a genuine smile reflects the inner state of cheerfulness or amusement.

"However, Behavioural Ecology Theory suggests that all smiles are tools used in social interactions; that theory claims that cheerfulness is neither necessary nor sufficient for smiling.

"Our study showed that in these Human-Computer Interaction experiments, smiling is not driven by happiness; it is associated with subjective engagement, which acts like a social fuel for smiling, even when socialising with a computer on your own."

Statistically, the emotion that was most associated with smiling was 'engagement' rather than 'happiness' or 'frustration'.

The frame by frame smile analysis broke down each of the nine questions into a question and answer period.

Participants did not tend to smile during the period when they were trying to figure out the answers.

However, they did right after the game informed them if their answer was correct or wrong, and surprisingly, participants smiled more often when they got the answer wrong.

Dr. Witchel added: "During these computerised quizzes, smiling was radically enhanced just after answering incorrectly. This behaviour could be explained by self-ratings of engagement, rather than by ratings of happiness or frustration."

Explore further: Smile and the world thinks you're older: Study

More information: Harry J. Witchel et al. A trigger-substrate model for smiling during an automated formative quiz, Proceedings of the 36th European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics - ECCE'18 (2018). DOI: 10.1145/3232078.3232084

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RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Sep 08, 2018
Smiling does not necessarily indicate that we are happy, according to new research at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).
I'm amazed that the correlation was ever considered in the first place. Most animals, including humans, smile when in the presence of dominant individuals or when then wish to show contrition, subservience or defeat.

People can also smile with pain, upon hearing bad news, when frightened and in all the same conditions when a person may tear.

The idea that people only smile when they are happy is as naive as the idea that people only tear when sad or other folk psychology naive over-generalisations...
thingumbobesquire
3 / 5 (4) Sep 08, 2018
I'm smiling right now... in bemusement at the waste of research dollars on such twaddle.

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