Imagine how cool it would be if you were able to clearly distinguish easily between a real smile and a fake smile. You’d be able to know when someone is genuinely pleased with you and when someone wants you to think they’re genuinely pleased with you.
First off we need to know what a real smile looks like so that we may be able to tell it from a fake one. The image below is a good example of a genuine smile:
In a real smile, the eyes sparkle and widen with joy. The widening action is accomplished by pulling back the eyes and slightly raising the lower eyelids. The lips are stretched horizontally and the lip corners are turned upward. This turning up of the lip corners is the hallmark of a real smile.
Teeth may or may not be exposed in a real smile but if they are exposed, it signifies extreme happiness.
Wrinkles are produced near the lip corners and if the pleasure feeling is intense, the ‘crow’s feet’ wrinkles may be seen near the corners of the eyes.
Now that we know what a real smile looks like, let’s take a look at a fake one:
In a fake smile, the lip corners are not turned up or they may be turned up very, very slightly to the point of not being noticeable at all. The lips are always closed and are stretched horizontally along a straight line. It is as if the lips have been closed tight by a zipper.
The fake smile is also known as, and very aptly, ‘the tight-lipped smile’. A person giving a tight-lipped smile is symbolically closing their lips with a zipper. They’re holding back a secret that they don’t want to reveal to you or they’re concealing their true attitude/feelings towards you.
The person giving you the tight-lipped smile is non-verbally telling you, “I’m not telling you shit” or “You have no clue what I’m really thinking” or “Okay I’ll smile. Here… Happy? Now buzz off!”
It is common to see women giving this smile to men they don’t like. Women generally think that if they reject a guy in a straightforward way, it could hurt his feelings. So they employ this fake smile instead.
Most men have no idea what this smile means and some even see it as a sign of acceptance. But other women might clearly understand that it is a signal of rejection.
This tight-lipped smile is the same ‘polite’ smile that you receive from a salesman who tries to sell you something, a flight-attendant who thanks you for choosing their company and a friendly woman behind the counter who wishes you a nice day.
These people have been taught to smile at their customers and treat them politely. They don’t know you enough to give you a real smile. So they end up giving you a fake one, just for the sake of being polite.
We also give this smile to a friend who tells us an unfunny joke or something along the same lines, either to please him or to mock him. Situations like these are trivial but sometimes detecting a fake smile can be really important.
For example, if you ask a friend what’s bothering him and he says, “Nothing”, giving you a fake smile of reassurance that you should know that ‘nothing’ isn’t bothering him, ‘something’ is.
A major distinguishing factor between a real and a fake smile is that a real smile lasts longer while a fake smile fades away very quickly.
If you notice someone giving you a fake smile, and then tell them straight-away, “Ah! That was a fake smile you just gave me!”, that can really freak them out. Nobody likes to admit they were not being genuine.
A better strategy would be pointing to their insincerity indirectly, saying something like, “What are you hiding?” or “You don’t seem happy to know this. Why?”
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.