But why is that?
Chimps use smiling as an expression of submission. When a chimp encounters a more dominant chimp, it smiles to show the dominant chimp its submissiveness and its disinterest in fighting for dominance.
By smiling, the submissive chimp tells the dominant chimp, “I am harmless. You need not be intimidated by me. I submit and accept your dominance. I’m afraid of you.”
Since human beings are also primates, smiling in us serves pretty much the same purpose. It is the most effective way to convey our submissiveness to others and tell them that we’re non-threatening.
Interestingly. many studies have revealed that if people are not smiled at during first meetings, they perceive the non-smilers to be hostile.
The fear face
When a chimp encounters a more dominant chimp, it’s very likely to use this smiling expression if it has no intention to compete for dominance. It is known as the ‘fear face’ and is shown on the chimp’s face below…
The ‘fear face’ expression is seen on a person’s face very briefly when he’s frightened because it fades away rather quickly.
We humans usually make this expression when we finish a long run (“Gee… that was quite a run!”), lift a heavy weight (“Good Lord… I just lifted 200 pounds!”), wait at a dentist’s clinic (“I’m about to get drilled in the mouth!”) or dodge a bullet (“You… did you see that? I almost got killed!”).
|Geez… That was close!|
|And women tell men they act like monkeys!|
Some smile more, others smile less
The high-status people are supposed to maintain a serious, dominant, non-smiling look and the low-status people are supposed to smile all the time and re-assert their submissiveness.
Laughter as a fear reaction
Some experts believe that even laughter is a fear reaction. They argue that the basis of most jokes is that, at the punchline, something disastrous or painful happens to someone.
This painful event may be physical (e.g. falling down) or psychological (e.g.humiliation). The unexpected ending with the painful event essentially ‘frightens our brain’ and we laugh with sounds similar to a chimp warning other chimps of imminent danger.
Even though we consciously know that the joke isn’t a real event or isn’t happening to us, our laugh releases endorphins anyway for self-anesthetics to curb the perceived pain.