Online test is designed to unmask the false smile

Click to follow

No one likes to admit they're faking it - but now a mass experiment threatens to unmask the secrets of a smile.

No one likes to admit they're faking it - but now a mass experiment threatens to unmask the secrets of a smile.

Members of the public are being urged to take part in an online experiment to determine whether smiles are genuine or fake. Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, hopes use this information to determine the nature of intuition and to find the most important part of the face for expressing real happiness.

The experiment is being run as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival and he expects to have results in 10 days time.

"Basically it is a large-scale study to test the emotional intelligence of the nation. People will go online, look at photographic portraits of people smiling and decide whether the smiles are genuine or fake," Professor Wiseman said.

Certain parts of the face, such as the eyes, mouth or sides will be masked to help to identify the facial features that elicit the most genuine signs of emotional wellbeing. "Some of the previous work on smiling has shown that the eyes are key to detecting a real smile, but this will be the first to compare left versus right side of the face."

The scientists will need several thousand participants to make the study statistically valid but a similar experiment last year on luck generated about 40,000 responses.

People taking part in the experiment will be asked simple questions such as age, occupation and sex to see whether certain groups are better at intuition than others - for instance whether female intuition has a firm scientific basis.

"We want to find people who are really good at this and to sort out which part of the face gives the most information.," Professor Wiseman said. "The ability to accurately judge the emotions of others is an essential psychological skill in almost every area of life.

"This study aims to discover who is especially good and bad at this mysterious skill, as well as providing some insight into how people can improve their intuitive abilities," he said.

The 19th Century scientist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne was the first to study the detailed physiology of the human smile. Genuine smiles are still named after him. Professor Wiseman said that a genuine Duchenne smile involves contractions of the muscles around the eyes, which produce distinctive "crow's feet" wrinkles, whereas a fake smile usually involves only the zygomatic muscles at the corner of the mouth, which cause the lips to curl upwards.

"The overall picture is that women are better than men at detecting false smiles but we don't really know the reason," Professor Wiseman said.

Test yourself online at


A genuine smile involves the muscles around the eyes (producing crows' feet near the corners of the eyes), whereas a fake smile only involves the mouth.

Genuine smiles have been named Duchenne smiles, after French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne, who first recorded the phenomenon.

Most 10-month old babies produce a fake smile when approached by a stranger, but a genuine smile when approached by their mothers.

Smiling is the only human facial expression that can be recognised at a distance of 300 feet.

Waiters receive 50 per cent bigger tips when they draw a smiling face on restaurant bills.

Couples who are happily married produce Duchenne smiles when they meet at the end of the day - unhappy couples produce fake smiles.

Smiling uses far fewer muscles than frowning.

Girls who had Duchenne smiles in school photographs showed enhanced physical and emotional well-being in tests 30 years later.