Types Of Smiles & Their Meaning

People smile for several reasons – it could be because you spotted your best friend who just returned from college, or you just had a long day, and your spouse had made your favorite dish. People are captivated by smiles. From the beautiful Mona Lisa to the grumpy Grinch, we’re fascinated by smiles.

We’ve compiled a list of several types of smiles, and their meaning.

Reward Smiles

Usually, people smile when they feel something positive; happiness, approval, contentment etc. Researchers call this kind of smile a “reward smile” because it is used to inspire or motivate.

This kind of smile involves several sensory stimuli. When we receive a positive input, the good feelings increase and it can lead to a reinforcement of such behavior. An example is when a little child smiles at his mother. It makes the mother feel good – caused by the release of dopamine in the brain – which is her reward for her baby’s smile.  

Affiliative Smiles

Smiles can be used to reassure, to show trustworthiness, politeness, good intentions and a sense of belonging. This kind of smile is known as a smile of affiliation due to the fact that they serve as social connectors.

Dominance Smiles

This smile is used to show superiority, express contempt, or disdain. People use this kind of smile to intimidate others. Sometimes, it’s even called a sneer. This smile is quite different from affiliative and reward smiles.

A study revealed that this kind of smile truly works. A high level of cortisol – the stress hormone – were found in the saliva of people that experienced this kind of smile. They also noticed that their heart rates significantly increased because the smile is a kind of nonverbal threat.

The Wistful Smile

The human emotion is quite astonishing. You’ll find it surprising that people smile at the unlikeliest circumstance. Some people still smile amid physical and emotional pain.

The National Institutes of Health conducted a study that showed that people who are able to laugh and smile while grieving are likely to recover faster. Surprisingly, scientists also believe that smiling during physical pain is a protective mechanism.

Researchers observed people who were going through painful procedures, and they discovered that people smiled when their loved ones were around. This showed that people smile to reassure others.

The Polite Smile

In most cases, you smile politely when you meet someone for the first time, when you don’t want to respond to someone you don’t like or when you want to deliver unpleasant news. The list is endless. Most times, when you smile politely only your mouth is smiling, your eyes are not.

This smile helps maintain some form of distance with people, while a warm smile tends to draw people closer. Several situations call for friendliness but not intimacy. In situations like this, a polite smile should come in handy.

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